On Jan. 24, Trident Seafoods, Westward Seafoods, North Pacific Seafoods, Ocean Beauty Seafoods and International Seafoods sued the U.S. Department of Commerce — parent of the National Marine Fisheries Service — on the grounds that a new rockfish management program that began this year is unfair to processors.
International Seafoods later withdrew from the case, saying that it was not in the company’s best interest.
On Friday, the plaintiffs in the case filed a request for summary judgment. If approved, summary judgment would allow a judge to rule on the lawsuit without the need for a lengthy trial.
“It’s calendared for oral argument in early October,” said George Mannina, a Washington, D.C. attorney representing the seafood processors.
Mannina said that if oral arguments go forward in early October, judge Marsha Pechman could rule by the end of the year.
“This is a very good court and they tend to be reasonably prompt,” Mannina said.
The core issue in the lawsuit is something called “processor linkages,” a legal means to require fishing boats to deliver their catch to a particular processing plant.
Under the rockfish program that began this year, fishermen can switch between plants by shifting their rockfish quota among cooperatives that are linked to a particular processing plant.
Under the rockfish pilot program, which ran for four years before the rockfish program fully began this year, fishermen could not switch as easily.
Fish processors have argued that national standards mandate fair treatment to all fishermen, and the definition of “fishing” includes fish processing. Giving fishermen an advantage over processing plants is thus unfair, they argue.
The rockfish program covers landings in the central Gulf of Alaska and deliveries to shore-based processors within the city of Kodiak.
While the legal contest continues in court, it has not kept fishermen from bringing in rockfish or Pacific Ocean Perch, which also are regulated under the rockfish program. As of Thursday, fishermen had brought in 11,198 tons of fish under the program, about 57 percent of this year’s quota.