Washington, DC- Today, Oceana filed a lawsuit against the federal government for its continued failure to create a method for monitoring the amount of wasted catch in New England and Mid-Atlantic fisheries, a region spanning from North Carolina to the Canadian border. Under the Magnuson-Stevens Act, the primary law governing fisheries in the United States, every federally managed fishery must have a standardized way to collect and report the amount of bycatch that occurs. Monitoring for wasted catch is mainly done by placing observers on a portion of fishing trips to count how many fish are caught and thrown back overboard. High-quality bycatch information is needed to ensure fishing quotas are being respected and overfishing does not occur.
In 2011, Oceana won a lawsuit against the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) for its failure to establish a catch monitoring system in this region, which is a violation of the Magnuson-Stevens Act. In response to this previous lawsuit, NMFS finalized a rule last month intended to establish such a system. In the lawsuit filed today, however, Oceana claims this new rule leaves loopholes that would guarantee that observer coverage would never meet its performance standards, ultimately failing to fix the current insufficiently low levels of monitoring in the region.
Oceana Assistant General Counsel Eric Bilsky released the following statement in response to the lawsuit:
“Year after year, the federal government has ignored its duty to establish an adequate bycatch reporting system. Without accurate and precise information on how many fish are being taken out of the water, overfishing in the Northeast will continue.
New England, in particular, has been plagued for decades by lax monitoring and overfishing. The failure to monitor catch and enforce catch limits is in part responsible for the collapse of the New England groundfish fishery, including the historically important Atlantic cod populations in the Gulf of Maine and Georges Bank, which are currently at 3 and 7 percent of their former population levels.
Without accurate bycatch reporting and catch-limit enforcement, overfishing will continue, leading to smaller and smaller catches and lower profits for the fishing industry, and increased stress on critical marine ecosystems. In a vicious circle, this economic harm then creates pressure for the industry to disregard conservation rules that are the only hope for long-term recovery. For example, last month, rather than having industry pay for observer coverage, the New England Fishery Management Council voted to suspend all observer coverage in the groundfish fishery.
The only way to restore Northeast fisheries and fishing industry is to have publicly available accurate and precise information on catch and bycatch and use that information to set and enforce catch limits.”
According to a previous Oceana report, millions of dollars worth of valuable fish are discarded in Northeast fisheries every year, including $25 million worth of fish in the New England and Mid-Atlantic regional bottom trawl fisheries.
Paul Gutermann and Charles Franklin, environmental lawyers with the international law firm of Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, LLP, prepared and filed the complaint on behalf of Oceana and released the following statement:
"Oceana has been a leader in holding the Fisheries Service accountable to its duties under federal law, and we are proud to play a small role in advancing their important work by serving as pro bono counsel on this matter. Today’s complaint is just the latest in a long string of legal actions by Oceana calling for the Service to finish a job Congress mandated almost 20 years ago: establish and implement a scientifically-defensible, unbiased and rigorous process for monitoring and managing bycatch to guide future conservation measures and protect the health and viability of our nation’s fisheries."
Oceana is the largest international advocacy group working solely to protect the world’s oceans. Oceana wins policy victories for the oceans using science-based campaigns. Since 2001, we have protected over 1.2 million square miles of ocean and innumerable sea turtles, sharks, dolphins and other sea creatures. More than 600,000 supporters have already joined Oceana. Global in scope, Oceana has offices in North, South and Central America and Europe. To learn more, please visit www.oceana.org.