New England's commercial fishing industry petitioned the International Trade Commission yesterday, asking for a countervailing tariff on imports of fresh Atlantic fish caught by Canada's government-subsidized fishermen.
The legal battle, mounted in Boston by the North Atlantic Fisheries Task Force on behalf of fishermen and fish processors, seeks a duty of 10 to 20 percent on fresh fish imported from Canada, including cod, haddock, pollack, flounder and sole.
Shellfish or Pacific-caught fish would not be included.
Canadian imports have increased from 4 percent to 15 percent of the U.S. market since 1979 and the level of fillets imported has doubled in that time.
The task force contends that the glut of Canadian fish -- with imports totaling $53 million last year -- has depressed prices and cost U.S. jobs and earnings.
No tariffs on fish imports now exist between the two countries.
Sam Parisi, task force chairman, a Gloucester boat owner and marine dealer, said Canada's "massive subsidies" created a climate of unfair competition.
Bart S. Fisher, the Washington lawyer who filed the petitions with the International Trade Commission and U.S. Department of Commerce, said it is time that the region's fishermen obtain marketplace equity so their "treasured way of life" can be saved.
The trade commission must issue a preliminary decision by Sept. 19 on whether reasonable grounds exist for the argument that U.S. fishermen have been "materially injured."