Environmentalists Praise Federal Court Victory in New England Groundfish Lawsuit - Oceana USA

Environmentalists Praise Federal Court Victory in New England Groundfish Lawsuit

Press Release Date: January 3, 2002

Location: Washington


Dustin Cranor, APR | email: dcranor@oceana.org | tel: 954.348.1314


Today, five environmental organizations announced a major litigation victory that will protect New England’s ocean life from wasteful, destructive overfishing.  On December 28, the United States District Court for the District of Columbia ruled that the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), bowing to short-term commercial interests, defied Congress’ mandate to conserve New England groundfish.  The ruling completely upholds environmentalists’ allegations that the NMFS failed to prevent overfishing and decrease bycatch in the New England groundfish fishery.

Five environmental advocacy groups praised the sweeping precedent-setting federal court decision.

“This ruling is a strong victory for the environmental protection principles of the Sustainable Fisheries Act and for all New England fish populations,” said CLF Marine Project Director Priscilla Brooks.  “The National Marine Fisheries Service has been caught in the act of ignoring the law including regulations that they themselves approved to manage New England’s struggling groundfish.  By doing so federal fishery managers have put the long-term recovery of New England groundfish populations at risk along with the economic viability of New England’s fishing communities.”              

“The failure of the National Marine Fisheries Service to manage bycatch in the New England groundfish fishery has contributed significantly to the plight of groundfish stocks for years”, stated Brad Sewell, senior project attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council.  “This federal court ruling is unequivocal in its mandate to NMFS to take effective action to measure and minimize this wasteful practice.”

“This victory sends a strong message to fishery mangers that business as usual in the New England fishery will not be tolerated,” said John Phillips, The Ocean Conservancy’s Regional Director.  “Law, science, and common sense dictate that we maintain fish populations at healthy levels, yet, most of the assessed fish species in New England are overfished.  Fishery managers must act now to accelerate the rebuilding of New England’s groundfish stocks and ensure that other sea life caught in the process will no longer be disregarded.”

“NMFS must now stop making excuses and take action to stop the overfishing of New England groundfish stocks as Congress mandated in the Sustainable Fisheries Act”, said Marilyn Twitchell, an attorney with the National Audubon Society.  “NMFS must also manage bycatch which has contributed to overfishing.  The court’s ruling will ensure that New England’s beleaguered groundfish stocks are put back on track toward sustainability.”

“This ruling brings to light the sad fact that federal fisheries regulation has been derailed by short-term commercial interests,” said Oceana attorney Eric Bilsky.  “It sends a message that ocean management must be based on sound science, not politics.”

Founded in 1966, the Conservation Law Foundation is a nonprofit, member-supported organization that uses law, economics and science to design and implement strategies to conserve natural resources, protect public health, and promote vital communities in New England. It has regional advocacy centers in Boston; Montpelier, Vermont; Concord, New Hampshire; and Rockland, Maine. www.clf.org

Oceana, whose Ocean Law Project is lead counsel on this case, is a new non-profit, international advocacy organization created with the sole purpose of protecting the world’s oceans to sustain the circle of life. Oceana brings together dedicated people from around the world, building an international movement to save the oceans through public policy advocacy, science and economics, legal action, grassroots mobilization, and public education.  www.oceana.org

The Ocean Conservancy is the largest national nonprofit organization committed solely to protecting ocean environments and conserving the global abundance and diversity of marine life.  Through science-based advocacy, research, and public education, The Ocean Conservancy seeks to 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 Alaska, California, Florida and New England and field offices in Santa Barbara and Santa Cruz, CA, Florida Keys, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.  www.oceanconservancy.org

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, the organization has more than 500,000 members nationwide, and has offices in New York, Washington, Los Angeles and San Francisco. www.nrdc.org

Founded in 1905 and supported by over 550,000 members in over 500 chapters throughout the Americas, the National Audubon Society conserves and restores natural ecosystems, focusing on birds and other wildlife for the benefit of humanity and the earth’s biological diversity. www.audubon.org

For more information, contact:

Priscilla Brooks, Director, Marine Resources Project, Conservation Law Foundation, 617-350-0990 x737

Brian Keane, Director of External Affairs, Conservation Law Foundation, 617-350-0990 x727

Roger Fleming, Staff Attorney, Conservation Law Foundation, 207-594-8107 x12

Eric Bilsky, Senior Attorney, Oceana, 202-833-3900 x912

Kathy Parrent, Natural Resources Defense Council, 212-727-4408

Coby Dolan, Program Counsel, The Ocean Conservancy, 202-429-5609

Marlyn Twitchell, Attorney, National Audubon Society, 610-527-6313