Stonington fishermen, first selectman: Camera proposal violates Fourth Amendment rights

Stonington fishermen, first selectman: Camera proposal violates Fourth Amendment rights


Rob Simmons

STONINGTON — A proposal from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration could potentially require fishermen to purchase a camera monitoring system to ensure that they are adhering to regulations — a requirement that local fishermen and First Selectman Rob Simmons see as a violation of their Fourth Amendment rights.

Based on a study done by the NOAA Greater Atlantic Regional Fisheries Office, electronic monitoring would potentially cost the fishermen around $500 per day per boat and require them to pay $60,000 for startup costs and annual maintenance of the equipment. While it’s less costly on a daily basis than the $700 per day cost of having a person doing at-sea monitoring on board a vessel, critics say the startup costs alone have the potential to put local fishermen out of business.

Aside from the costs of the proposed mandate, many see it as a violation of privacy.

Simmons, who’s been in touch with New Hampshire attorney Jason Crance, who has written legal papers on concerns with at-sea monitoring, said he feels this proposed mandate could potentially infringe on the Fourth Amendment rights of fishermen.

“I’m trying to see if there’s any sound legal argument into the intrusion of someone’s workplace because I believe this is a means of spying on Stonington’s fishermen,” he said. “They want to make sure the fishermen are complying with catch limit regulations but it seems like the government is assuming they aren’t complying. It’s like the state police putting a mini camera in my car next to a speedometer that monitors and notifies police when they go past 65.”

He said he recently testified on the topic during a hearing the New England Fishery Management Council hosted in Groton two weeks ago.

While the Coast Guard has certain rights to board vessels if they have reasonable suspicions that a boat is involved in illegal activities, Simmons said he wasn’t aware that surveillance on a boat was allowed.

“I’m very upset with how our fishermen are being treated,” he said. “I don’t believe the government has a camera on every boat to make sure people don’t drink too much while driving a boat. Why are the fishermen being discriminated against? They’ve been beat down for so long.”

Bobby Guzzo, who fishes out of the town dock in Stonington Borough, said fishing boats are their homes when they are out for several days at a time.

“We live on these boats when we’re out at sea. They want to bring cameras into our homes,” he said. “This would absolutely be a violation of our rights. It’s an invasion of privacy and it seems like they’re already thinking we’re guilty of violating regulations by wanting to put cameras on our boats.”

Mike Gambardella, owner of Gambardella Wholesale Seafood, said he thinks the whole concept of monitoring fishermen is disgraceful.

“How much more do they want from us?” he said. “They’ve put catch limits on us when 96 percent of the fish consumed in this country is imported. We can’t afford this and I’m just disgusted with the whole thing. At this point, we’re already going out of business from the catch limits.”

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