Ninth Circuit Upholds West Coast Groundfish Catch Share Program

Decision Affirms that the Program Complies with Federal Magnuson-Stevens Act

September 11, 2012
Contact: 
Matt Rand, mrand@edf.org, 202.572.3394

(San Francisco – September 11, 2012) On September 10th, a federal appeals court unanimously upheld a prior court's ruling that the west coast groundfish individual transferable quota (ITQ) system, a form of catch share, was lawfully executed.  The decision helps to ensure that the efforts to improve the management and conservation of the resource through a catch share will continue as originally designed.

In its decision, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit held that the ITQ program complies with the requirements of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act and the National Environmental Policy Act.  Pacific Coast Fed'n of Fishermen's Associations v. Blank, No. 11-17108, opinion filed September 10, 2012.  In finding for the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), the administering agency within the U.S. Department of Commerce that governs fishing in federal waters, the court determined that the agency properly considered the impacts of the program and took necessary steps to achieve its goals, including increasing economic benefits, protecting the environment, and holding fishermen accountable for staying within catch limits.

"We are pleased that the court confirmed that the catch share program is legal and should continue," said Brent Paine of United Catcher Boats, a fishing group that participated as a friend of the court in the lawsuit.  "Disrupting a system that has put the west coast fishing industry back on the right track would have been a disaster and cost jobs at a critical time."

"The court's decision affirms that NMFS and the Pacific Fishery Management Council carefully considered the impact of the ITQ program on communities and took steps to protect them, including at the expense of efficiency where necessary.  In fact, coastal communities and fishing jobs, which were faltering before, are more stable under the new system," said David Jincks of the Midwater Trawlers' Cooperative, which participated as a friend of the court in the lawsuit.  "We have seen profits go up and wasteful bycatch go down under ITQ management."

"The environment and the economy both benefit under this program," said Shems Jud, Pacific Region Deputy Director for the Environmental Defense Fund's Oceans program, which joined United Catcher Boats and the Midwater Trawlers Cooperative in support of the government. "For years regulators tried and failed to figure out how to allow catch of targeted species without overfishing vulnerable species as bycatch.  Now results from the first year confirm that catch shares have resulted in far less bycatch of overfished species.  The court agreed that the NMFS addressed concerns about overconcentration of fishing into too few hands and possible impacts on coastal communities, and we continue to work with communities to ensure they thrive for generations to come."

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