‘This Was A Fisheries Killer:’ The Fisherman Who Fought Chevron Deference All The Way To The Supreme Court

'With these restrictions and quotas, now you're forcing people to buy fish in order to catch fish.'
Lobstering boats tied to a pier in Portland, Maine. KenWiedemann. Getty Images.
KenWiedemann. Getty Images.

The following is an edited transcript of an interview with Daily Wire editor-in-chief John Bickley and Jerry Leeman, CEO of the New England Fishermen’s Stewardship Association, on an Extra edition of Morning Wire.

In a landmark ruling last week, the Supreme Court overturned Chevron deference, stripping federal agencies of what had become increasingly unilateral power to interpret and enforce policies without checks and balances. The ruling was a result of a lawsuit, Relentless Incorporated vs. Commerce Department, involving government overreach in the fishing industry. We talked with the founder of an influential fishermen’s association, who filed an amicus brief in that case, about what he says is a long pattern of government intrusion that’s destroying whole industries.

* * *

JOHN: Joining us now is Jerry Leeman, New England Fishermen’s Stewardship Association Founder & CEO, who filed an amicus brief in the case that ended up overturning Chevron deference. Welcome, Jerry. First, tell us about your background. How long have you been in the fishing industry?

JERRY: I was raised in Harpswell, Maine by a commercial fishing family – lobstering and ground fishing, seining, urchining, scalloping, shrimping, back when the state of Maine had it. I’ve been in all the fisheries. Since 2000, I have spent 23 years at sea. Fishing 220-240 days a year, multi-species trawling. I’ve been networked in all the major fishing ports here: Portland, Maine, Gloucester, Boston, Mass, New Bedford, Mass. And I’ve covered a lot of the region’s territory.

JOHN: In terms of progress and decline, what have you seen in this industry as a whole over the decades you’ve worked in it?

JERRY: I’ve been seeing decline steadily since 2000. We don’t even see new participants really getting into the fisheries. We’ve moved the goalposts too far. And now with these restrictions and quotas, now you’re forcing people to buy fish in order to catch fish. And the problem is the price that you pay to catch a fish is less than the market value once you’ve retrieved it. So most times when you go to buy a lease quota, you’re only buying it just for the sake of keeping the vessel active. You’re not actually making any financial gain. If anything, it’s a financial burden.

JOHN: Now this brings us to the case in which you filed, an amicus brief: Relentless Incorporated vs. Commerce Department. It’s now the case that overturned Chevron deference. It came in response to a new federal law requiring government observers on fishing vessels. What sparked your involvement in the case? 

JERRY: Well, we’ve just been watching what’s been taking place over the years and now that they’re pushing for fishing vessels to pay for observers aboard our vessels, which if you do the breakdown, now they’re going to account for the fisheries to pay more towards observers than we’re actually paying our crews, which does not make for a viable business.

JOHN: So this really was a question of whether or not you can actually keep business open if this policy were to be enacted.

JERRY: This was a fisheries killer.

LISTEN: Catch the full interview with Jerry Leeman on an Extra edition of Morning Wire

JOHN: So, what was the thinking from the government here, that this would actually be viable?

JERRY: It’s just more overreach and overwatch. I mean, we have less fishermen every year and yet now they want 100% coverage? We haven’t even broken any rules or laws. So why are we having to pay to have somebody watch us around the clock? I mean, our arguments were pretty easy. I mean, look at how many truck drivers are in America. How would we feel if we put an observer in each truck and then made those truck drivers pay to feed those observers, maintain them, babysit, and pay them more than what they’re paying their crews? It’s preposterous.

USA, Maine, St. George, Three fishermen working on boat.

Daniel Grill/Tetra Images

JOHN: Is this part of a pattern that you’ve seen from the Commerce Department related to the fishing industry?

JERRY: Oh, this is something that’s been taking place for quite a while now, and this is a good first step in the right direction.

JOHN: You said “first step.” Are there some other things you believe need to be overruled or overturned in terms of policies?

JERRY: I think some of these policies that have been dictated to the fisheries didn’t have a logical excuse, as far as the economics of the fisheries viability, which has been detrimental. If you talk to fishermen and recreational fishermen up and down the coast, nobody seems to see a problem in our biomass, but yet our surveys that keep coming back are depleting our allowable catches. And then on top of that they’re requesting us to pay for observers. These are people that come straight from college with little to no experience at sea. And here in New England, we have variable weather. I mean, it’s not very nice out there in the winter months. So now you have somebody that doesn’t even know if they get seasick trapped on a vessel with us for 10 days and then it’s our responsibility to monitor them and to keep them safe. It was a lot of overreach.

JOHN: What do you think the role of the federal government should be with the fishing industry?

JERRY: Well, we’re a big part of our food securities. Up here in New England, this has been a major part of this country’s food banks. And now we’re removing it from the populace. 94% of the product that is now consumed is foreign product. So why are we restricting U.S. harvesters from providing wild, local, heart-healthy product that’s environmentally friendly and sustainable? Meanwhile, we’re purchasing product from other nations that do not abide by our rules and regulations. This has been something that’s been going on for a while. Now we have less fishermen than we had in colonial days. And this was just one more further step in pretty much cutting the throats of the entire fishing fleet.

JOHN: What do you hope to see in the coming years from both the federal government and state governments? How can they help the industry thrive again?

JERRY: Well, a lot of it has to do with the data that we receive. I mean, it’ll be good to have knowledgeable fishermen who have spent their entire lives, decades at sea, using these equipment to garner the best data available using the science teams. So, this guess on modeling based on multiple surveys would be more accurate, which would allow us to develop better marketing strategies, put together working fisheries and education to be applied to the future. I mean, right now, we teach fisheries management in college. We don’t teach fisheries.

JOHN: What do you mean by that – that we don’t teach fisheries?

JERRY: Well, we teach how fishing management works based on surveys, allocations, and statistical committees. But as far as using trawl gear, migrational patterns of our stocks, and how to harvest these things responsibly and sustainably, mending is a big part of trawling, we don’t really teach that as well. We have no educational classes on getting fundamentally educated employees to get the job done safely in a manageable, environmentally friendly way.

JOHN: What’s the solution for that? Who should provide that education?

JERRY: It’s going to have to be from the fisheries that are pre-existing, and right now we have an aging fleet, so we’re on a ticking time bomb as far as passing that knowledge on to the next generation. That has been the forefront of my arguments — you only know what you know and how do you know it? The fishermen that came before us learned from the fishermen in their region based on time and effort. And that’s something that has been passed down through families and multiple vessels and skippers to their mates who passed that knowledge over time and effort to their mates. And that’s how, collectively, we’ve moved along and advanced ourselves. But now we have so very few people left. And we don’t teach these things. I mean, back in the 80s and 90s, a lot of schools used to offer programs with marine trades. And that’s something that went away about 25 years ago. And now what we’re left with is a crippled fleet.

JOHN: Do you have hope that the industry will bounce back?

JERRY: I think there is time to still salvage that knowledge and pass it onto the next generation, which will go back to the food securities of this nation. I mean, it’s one thing to say we have it, but we have to be able to harvest it to provide it to the U.S consumer, and to do so in a responsible, sustainable way, so this way our food securities of the nations are here for longevity.

JOHN: Well, Jerry, thank you for talking with us – and for taking the steps you did to protect your industry.

JERRY: Thank you very much. 


LISTEN: Catch the full interview with Jerry Leeman on an Extra edition of Morning Wire

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The Daily Wire   >  Read   >  ‘This Was A Fisheries Killer:’ The Fisherman Who Fought Chevron Deference All The Way To The Supreme Court