Judge Dismisses Attempt to Halt West Coast Fishery

Earlier this year, EDF joined with two West Coast fishing industry organizations (United Catcher Boats and Midwater Trawlers Cooperative) in an amicus brief requesting dismissal of a lawsuit brought by the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations (PCFFA). PCFFA had filed suit to halt the West Coast groundfish trawl program.

Late last week, U.S. District Judge Charles R. Breyer ruled in the case, dismissed PCFFA’s claims in their entirety and granted summary judgment to the federal defendants (the Secretary of Commerce, NMFS and NOAA). This is an excellent outcome for a program with real potential to transform a failed fishery into a profitable and sustainable one for years to come.

Please see the news release on the ruling below and download the court’s decision on the West Coast Trawlers’ Network website.

Judge Breyer dismisses PCFFA lawsuit; ruling clears way for West Coast trawlers to improve new catch share system

Last Friday, Judge Charles Breyer (U.S. District Court, Northern District of California) dismissed a lawsuit that sought to halt the recently enacted West Coast groundfish trawl rationalization program. That lawsuit had been brought by the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations (PCFFA) and a handful of other groups against the Secretary of Commerce, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Under development since 2003, the trawl rationalization program was designed with significant input from industry, NGOs and other stakeholders to reduce bycatch of overfished and other sensitive stocks, while enabling the fishery to recover economically from a federal disaster declaration in 2000. Some of those stakeholders – the Midwater Trawlers Cooperative, the United Catcher Boats and the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) – supported NOAA and NMFS with an amicus brief in support of the federal defendants’ successful request for summary judgment and dismissal of the suit.

PCFFA’s lawsuit alleged, among other things, that the fishery rationalization program violates national standards requiring management measures to prevent overfishing and to minimize bycatch and bycatch mortality to the extent possible.

The judge rejected the plaintiff’s arguments, however, highlighting NMFS’ argument that the program would:

“increase individual accountability for total catch, including bycatch, and would give fishermen greater discretion as to when and how to fish. This would be expected to provide greater opportunity to extract the full (optimum yield) of higher biomass species while avoiding lower biomass species. The 100 percent monitoring and increased accountability should reduce the risk of overfishing.”

“And in fact that is exactly what we’ve seen in the fishery so far,” said David Jincks, president of the Midwater Trawlers Cooperative. “The flexibility in the program has allowed fishermen who also fish for crab and shrimp to take advantage of strong seasons on those species, without fear of losing their groundfish landings as they would have in the past. And also, unlike previous seasons, the bycatch of overfished species is tracking very low, relative to the catch of target species off the coast. That’s exactly the kind of good news we were looking for out of this program.”

Fishery stakeholders can now focus attention on refining and improving the new catch share program.

“Now that the program has passed legal muster, we can focus on making the new management system a success for the fleet,” said Shems Jud, EDF’s Deputy Regional Director for the Pacific Coast. “Specifically, we’re working with fishermen to address the projected costs of management, the fleet’s responsibility for covering onboard observer costs, and a pre-existing 5% buyback fee. These are real challenges for the fleet, so we are advocating constructive new approaches that will help as many fishermen as possible to succeed.”

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