“The Conflict Between Local Fishing Industry and the Protection of Marine Fishery Resources in Recreational Fishing Alliance v. Evans”

Appearing in JNREL Vol. 21 No. 2 this comment was written by former staff member Michael Russell. The following abstract was written by staff member Cara Houlehan.

Local fishing communities and federal wildlife conservation authorities share a mutual goal - to maintain a productive and healthy fishing environment. However, these groups have widely disparate views of how to accomplish this objective. Recreational Fishing Alliance v. Evans, 172 F. Supp. 2d 35 (D.D.C. 2001) illustrates the perspectives of each of these parties with regard to federally mandated fishing retention limits. Specifically, members of a local recreational fishing industry challenged the 1999 Highly Migratory Species Fishery Management Plan for Atlanta Tunas, Swordfish, and Sharks (HMS FMP), regulations which were implemented by the U.S. Secretary of Commerce and promulgated by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS). Plaintiffs contended that the HMS FMP set shark and tuna retention limits in violation of the Magnuson-Stevens Act and the Regulatory Flexibility Act (RFA). The United States District Court for the District of Columbia granted defendants' motion for summary judgment, however, holding that plaintiffs had failed to show that the HMS FMP violated either Act.

The Magnuson-Stevens Act was enacted in response to increased fishing of highly migratory species of fish, and includes both conservation and management measures to protect them. In part, the Act states that the Secretary of Commerce must assess the potential effects of conservation efforts on participants in affected fisheries and, if possible, lessen disadvantages to U.S. fishermen as compared to foreign competitors. Further, the Act promulgates National Standards to direct future conservation plans and subjects the actions taken by the Secretary of Commerce to judicial review. The RFA requires agencies to assess the effects of regulations on small business entities.

Plaintiffs in Evans argued that the HMS FMP violated the Magnuson-Stevens Act by falling short of several of the National Standards and the requirement to minimize foreign competition. Furthermore, they claimed that the retention limits violated the RFA because the NMFS failed to consider small business concerns or the economic impact of retention limits on the industry.

In granting defendants' motion for summary judgment, the court stated that plaintiffs had provided insufficient evidence and did not offer adequate justifications for any of their claims. The court showed deference to the Secretary of Commerce due to the strong governmental interest in conservation and regulation of marine resources. They acknowledged the reasonableness of the regulations and the broad discretion of the NMFS in setting the retention limits.

The result in Evans reveals not only the weight of governmental interests in the fishing industry, but the difficulty local fisheries face in collecting sufficient evidence to substantiate their claims with very limited resources. While the government must be receptive to the plight of the industry, local fisheries may ultimately benefit from stringent regulation through the protection of the species on which their livelihood depends. Though fisheries' primary concern is their economic welfare, Evans
suggests that perhaps the only way to reconcile the conflict is to employ a forward-looking approach and recognize the long-term benefits of conservation. Meanwhile, in order to best serve the fishing environment, Congress must aim to protect local businesses as well as the fish on which they depend.