A fisherman's tale of fighting Uncle Sam

We’re probably going well off the beaten path on this one, but I wanted to draw your attention to a lawsuit which has been percolating in the system since 2015 and may be coming to the Supreme Court later this year. It involves a small volume fisherman who is fighting back against onerous regulations from the Department of Commerce which are threatening to put him (and so many other family operations) out of business. David Goethel is in the fight of his life because new government regulations are costing him more per day than he can generally earn in profit from his fishing operation. Cause of Action Institute (CoAI) is working on this case and provides the details.

Meet New Hampshire fisherman David Goethel. The federal government is destroying Mr. Goethel’s industry through overregulation and forcing ground-fishermen like himself to pay $700 per day to have authorities monitor them on their boats. Even the government estimates these additional costs would put 60% of the industry out of business. CoAI is helping Mr. Goethel fight back through the courts to save his livelihood.

This brief, four minute video provides the background.

The basic gist of this battle is that, under these new regulations, fishermen who pursue cod, flounder and other “ground fish” must be monitored by the government. But the only way they came up with to accomplish this rather Orwellian sounding requirement was to station a person on each boat to make sure they aren’t taking too many fish, the wrong kind or whatever else it is that they’re doing. As if having a government monitor hanging around for the entire trip wasn’t burdensome enough, Uncle Sam then turned around and announced that the fishermen would have to pay the cost of stationing the monitor on their boat. That works out to about $700 per day.

Perhaps that’s not a significant amount of money for a company operating a large ocean trawler, but for a small, family style operation like Goethael has going, that’s frequently equal to or in excess of his entire profit for a day’s work. (And that’s not taking into account the vagaries of the fishing gods and whether or not you’ll even find any darned fish on any given day.) This essentially means that the fisherman is paying his entire profit to the government for the privilege of taking their official snoop on an ocean cruise every day.

Besides the gross unfairness of the situation, I’m left wondering how this was the only solution the government could come up with. This is 2017, not 1817. Even if you feel you need to peer over the shoulders of these fisherman every time they leave port, do we really have to station a human being on every boat? Couldn’t there be a camera hooked up via satellite using Skype or something so a single person back on shore could monitor multiple boats?

Goethael has already been through two rounds of court action protesting this crippling regulatory burden but has been rejected in the lower level courts. Thus far they haven’t even been ruling on the merits of the case, but rather on a technicality, claiming that the plaintiff didn’t file soon enough after the regulation went into effect. (This ignores the fact that the government didn’t transfer the cost of these monitors to the fishermen until much later.) CoAI has filed a petition for writ of certiorari urging the Supreme Court to take up the case and rule on the merits and consider the damage that this regulatory albatross is doing to an industry as old as the nation itself.

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David Strom 6:01 PM on March 29, 2023