The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia yesterday released an opinion in favor of conservation organization Oceana that will require the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) to establish a standardized system for counting and reporting the amount of bycatch – catch that is discarded overboard by fishermen – in commercial fisheries from North Carolina to the Canadian border under the Magnuson-Stevens Act, the law that regulates federal fisheries. This decision by Circuit Court Judge Douglas Ginsburg will also require NMFS to provide fisheries observers on New England and Mid-Atlantic vessels to aid in the counting of discarded fish, which was left up to their discretion until this point.
“For more than 15 years NMFS has violated the law, managing America’s fisheries without reliable information about how much fish and other marine wildlife is being shoveled over the side of boats, often dead or dying,” said Gilbert Brogan, northeast representative for Oceana. “This ruling is a significant step towards improving the management of U.S. fisheries in the Atlantic.”
Oceana unsuccessfully challenged the bycatch reporting regulations for the waters of New England and the Mid-Atlantic in federal court in 2008. Oceana, represented by Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, a Washington-based law firm, appealed the lower court decision in 2010.
Hyland Hunt, an associate in the litigation group at Akin Gump in Dallas, argued the case. Hunt remarked, "We appreciate the Court's careful consideration of our arguments and are pleased with their decision."
Following the Court’s ruling, the bycatch reporting program was returned to NMFS for further development to meet the requirements of the law. It is expected that any revisions to the bycatch program will be completed by the New England and Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Councils and implemented by NMFS.
“Oceana is confident that this ruling will lead to better information about these important fisheries,” said Brogan. “Improved data that is provided to the public will force fisheries managers to get serious about reducing the destruction and waste of valuable ocean resources.”