A coalition of conservation groups today hailed a recent court decision upholding a National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) regulation requiring electronic monitoring on all fishing vessels in the Atlantic Ocean that target far-ranging species such as swordfish and tuna. On October 16, 2002, a federal district court in Washington, D.C. rejected an industry challenge to a federal requirement that vessel monitoring systems (VMS) be installed in all Atlantic pelagic longline fishing vessels - boats that catch highly migratory species such as swordfish and tuna on fishing lines that are miles long.
“Now NMFS can move immediately to require VMS in the Atlantic, which will greatly help enforcement of areas that are closed to fishing due to conservation concerns,” said Sylvia Liu, attorney at Oceana, an international marine conservation group headquartered in Washington, D.C.
Oceana represented four other organizations as amici, or friends of the court, supporting NMFS. The organizations are the National Audubon Society, the National Coalition for Marine Conservation, Natural Resources Defense Council, and The Ocean Conservancy.
VMS is an electronic tool installed on a vessel that can transmit global positioning system information on a real-time basis, allowing NMFS to determine the location and travel patterns of fishing boats. VMS is an important tool that can help NMFS monitor and enforce areas that are closed to fishing. In May 1999, NMFS issued a fishery management plan (FMP) to manage and conserve the Atlantic highly migratory species fishery, which include fish such Atlantic blue marlin, white marlin, sailfish, bluefin tuna, and swordfish. As part of this plan, NMFS determined that all pelagic longline boats that fish for these species are required to install VMS to allow NMFS to monitor and enforce several area closures that were put in place to prevent overfishing and bycatch in the fishery. The bycatch includes juvenile (undersized) fish as well as protected species such as sea turtles and marine mammals.
“We have waited over three years for this rule to be upheld,” said Merry Camhi, Assistant Director of National Audubon Society's Living Oceans Program. “We are ecstatic that we finally have this critical tool to help rebuild depleted fisheries and minimize unwanted bycatch.”
“Area closures are the only known method of reducing fatal interactions between longlines and protected species of fish and other ocean wildlife, said Ken Hinman, president of the National Coalition for Marine Conservation. “VMS is the only way to enforce those closures and make certain they are as effective as possible.”
Two years ago, in September 2000, the district court rejected a challenge by the commercial fishing industry's challenges to the FMP, except the requirement for a fleetwide VMS, which it sent back to NMFS for a better justification. In September 2001, NMFS reaffirmed its decision to require VMS to enforce five area closures in the Atlantic Ocean. Last week's court decision affirmed NMFS' latest decision and opens the way for the rule to be implemented.
Oceana is an international environmental organization created for the sole purpose of protecting the world's oceans to sustain the circle of life. In May 2002, Oceana merged with the American Oceans Campaign to bring together dedicated people from around the world to build an international movement to save the oceans through advocacy, science, economics, legal action, grassroots mobilization, and public education. For more information, visit www.oceana.org.
National Audubon Society is committed to conserving and restoring natural ecosystems, focusing on birds and other wildlife for the benefit of humanity and the earth's biological diversity. Living Oceans is Audubon's marine conservation program. Our mission is to protect and restore the living communities and special places of the seas for seabirds, fish, and other marine life, and for the benefit of humanity. For more information, visit www.audubon.org.
The National Coalition for Marine Conservation (NCMC) is the nation's oldest public advocacy group dedicated exclusively to conserving the world's ocean fish, habitat and environment. Our mission is to build public awareness of the threats to our marine fisheries, provide constructive solutions, and convince state, national and international fishery managers to take appropriate action to reverse the depletion of marine fishery resources. For more information, visit www.savethefish.org.
The Ocean Conservancy strives to be the world's foremost advocate for the oceans. Through science-based advocacy, research, and public education, we inform, inspire and empower people to speak and act for the oceans. Headquartered in Washington, DC, with more than 900,000 members and volunteers The Ocean Conservancy has regional offices in Alaska, California, Florida, and New England and field offices in Santa Barbara and Santa Cruz, CA, Florida Keys, the U.S. Virgin Islands and the office of Pollution Prevention and Monitoring in Virginia Beach, VA. For more information, visit www.oceanconservancy.org.
The Natural Resources Defense Council is a national, non-profit organization of scientists, lawyers and environmental specialists dedicated to protecting public health and the environment. Founded in 1970, NRDC has more than 400,000 members nationwide, served from offices in New York, Washington, Los Angeles and San Francisco. More information is available through NRDC's Web site at www.nrdc.org.