Document Type

Case Note


In Cherenzia v. Lynch, several commercial fishermen filed suit to challenge the constitutionality of a Rhode Island statute that prohibits the use of a self-contained underwater breathing apparatus (SCUBA) to harvest shellfish at four coastal ponds in the state. On cross motions for summary judgment, the trial court granted the plaintiffs' motion and the State filed a timely appeal to the Supreme Court of Rhode Island. The supreme court was asked to address whether the fishermen's equal protection and due process rights were infringed upon by the statute; it found in the negative and reversed the decision of the trial court. The appeal, however, provided the supreme court with a critical opportunity to control the Rhode Island General Assembly's regulation of "rights of fishery." The supreme court's decision deferred to the General Assembly, interpreting the "rights of fishery" to be for the "benefit of the people of the state and not merely for the profit and emolument of the fisherman engaged in the business." Therefore, the decision cemented the public policy that fishery resources are to be shared equally between commercial fishermen and recreational fishermen. The question now becomes: should the court be less deferential to the legislature when fishery regulations lack a solid conservation basis and have the potential to negatively impact the livelihood of commercial fishermen? This Note considers whether state legislatures should statutorily alter the methods which commercial fishermen can employ, especially when significant environmental concerns are absent. In addition to reviewing the history of deference given to states in regulating their respective fishing industries, this Note suggests there is a developing rift between citizens who fish for recreation and sport, and citizens who fish for a living. Moreover, this Note will demonstrate that other states besides Rhode Island are leaning towards a tendency of tight control over commercial fishing in the name of resource allocation. After weighing these considerations, the Note concludes that the decision in Cherenzia v. Lynch will open the door for the Rhode Island General Assembly and other state legislatures to unfairly regulate their fisheries, resulting in a drastic cut in the prosperity of commercial fishermen.



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