Dukes County fishermen’s group joins federal lawsuit


The Duke’s County Commercial Fishermen’s Association has signed on to a lawsuit that was filed by the public interest law firm Earthjustice in Federal District court in Washington, D.C. against federal fisheries agencies and state natural resource departments along the east coast.

“The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission and the National Marine Fisheries Service both are required to take measures to stem the decline of river herring and shad populations — and have failed to do so,” Earthjustice said in a press release.

Also named as a plaintiff in the lawsuit is recreational fisherman Mike Flaherty of Wareham.

In particular, the lawsuit targets midwater trawling. “We have an unregulated federal fishery for river herring and shad,” Roger Fleming, Earthjustice attorney, said in a press release. “We are calling on these agencies to do what the law requires them to do — conserve and manage these fish. The time to act was yesterday.”

In a telephone call Tuesday, Mr. Fleming said he had met Warren Doty, a Chilmark selectman and executive director of the fishermen’s association, in meetings, and was familiar with the Island group and its concerns.

Michele Jones of Oak Bluffs, association secretary and board member, said Earthjustice contacted Mr. Doty and her about two weeks ago and asked to represent the association in a lawsuit. “And we thought it was in our best interests to do so,” she said.

She said that she and Mr. Doty polled members by phone and email to gain a consensus.

The lawsuit said the Association “was created by the Dukes County Commission and represents Martha’s Vineyard on fishery issues before local, state, regional, and federal regulatory agencies in order to identify and champion fishing methods that are sustainable and consistent with sensible environmental goals.”

The lawsuit describes the agencies, the problem of overfishing, and what Earthjustice seeks as remedies.

These include a fisheries management plan that ends overfishing; sets rebuilding plans; minimizes bycatch to the extent practicable, and establishes emergency measures that limit the incidental take of river herring and shad as bycatch in the midwater trawl fishery.

Russell Smith, Dukes County manager, said that although the fishermen’s association exists under the county umbrella, the county has no legal responsibility for its actions and he was not consulted about the decision to join the lawsuit.