Federal judge nixes consent decree on lobstermen's association

Jul 24, 2014
Attorney Mary Anne Mason, left, and MLA Executive Director Patrice McCarron.

Portland — A federal judge signed an order July 21 terminating a final judgement entered in 1958 that imposed a consent decree against the Maine Lobstermen's Association.

The consent decree was based on a court finding that the association engaged in price fixing, a violation of the Sherman Anti-Trust Act. The MLA worked with the U.S. Department of Justice for several years to make the case that the consent decree was no longer necessary and did not serve the public interest, said a press release from the MLA.

"I felt like I was part of history to be present when this legal judgment, in place for nearly 60 years, was vacated,” said MLA Director Patrice McCarron in a prepared statement. “It really is a breath of fresh air for the MLA," she said.

The association represents 1,200 Maine lobstermen.

In June, the MLA filed a motion in United States District Court requesting termination of the final judgment. The motion was unopposed.

Judge Brock D. Hornby heard arguments from MLA counsel, Mary Anne Mason of Washington, D.C. and Department of Justice counsel, Michele Cano, on why the court should remove the consent decree.

During the court proceeding, Hornby underscored the importance of the lobster industry to the state of Maine, the rich history of the MLA case, and the importance of this ruling to the state of Maine.

After inquiring whether any adverse public comment or other information had been received by the Department of Justice, Hornby concurred with the MLA and DOJ that termination of the decree would be in the public interest.

The MLA completed a strategic plan in 2009 which included reorganizing from a cooperative organization to a non-profit trade association, which better fits the MLA’s mission. Dissolving the consent decree will allow the MLA to move forward with this goal, said the release.

In 1979, the Department of Justice adopted a policy calling for consent decrees to sunset within 10 years of entry. The DOJ would work with parties seeking to modify or terminate decrees entered prior to 1980 that contain no sunset provision where terminating them appeared to be in the public interest.

“In the case of the MLA, the consent decree has long ago achieved its purpose and is no longer needed to achieve compliance with the U.S. antitrust laws,” said Mary Anne Mason. “Moreover, the lobster fishing industry has changed fundamentally in the more than five decades since the final judgment was entered. During that time, federal and state environmental, economic, and fisheries management regulations have fundamentally altered the industry.”

The role of the MLA as an organization has evolved in response to these changes. The present MLA has no involvement in the commercial harvest, sale, or distribution of lobster.The MLA is a trade organization dedicated to advocacy for a sustainable lobster resource and the fishermen and communities that depend on it, said the release.

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Juliette Laaka
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