Federal court rules Magnuson-Stevens, NOAA don't regulate aquaculture

A ruling in a Louisiana federal court earlier this week could have major implications for how the United States regulates aquaculture in federal waters.

On Monday, 24 September, U.S. District Judge Jane Triche Milazzo ruled in favor of environmental, public interest and fishing groups who filed suit against the federal government two years ago, claiming NOAA Fisheries did not have the authority to regulate aquaculture through the Magnuson-Stevens Act. 

The judge said the law deals with only the traditional fishing of wild fish and that the agency’s interpretation of the word harvesting in the law was done on purely a semantic level.

“It is often said that ‘Congress does not hide elephants in mouseholes,’ and this court cannot imagine a more fitting example,” Milazzo wrote. “Had Congress intended to give (NOAA Fisheries) the authority to create an entirely new regulatory permitting scheme for aquaculture operations, it would have said more than ‘harvesting.’ The MSA is a conservation statute, aimed at the conservation and management of natural resources. Fish farmed in aquaculture are neither ‘found’ off the coasts of the United States nor are they ‘natural resources.’”

After getting the court victory, the plaintiffs, which included such organizations as the Center for Food Safety, the Recirculating Farms Coalition and the Gulf Fishermen’s Association and the Gulf Restoration Network, said they will now look to stop current legislation designed to regulate aquaculture. That includes the AQUAA Act filed earlier this year by U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Mississippi).

“This ruling makes clear that existing fisheries law cannot be manipulated to develop and expand marine finfish farming in the Gulf or other U.S. waters,” said Marianne Cufone, the RFC’s local counsel and executive director, in a news release. “Now we can focus on stopping Congress from passing new laws to promote this outdated and unnecessary industry.”  

Stronger America Though Seafood, an industry group that’s lobbying for increased aquaculture production in the United States, told SeafoodSource that the ruling makes it crucial that Congress grant NOAA Fisheries the authority to regulate the industry.

Jennie Lyons, a NOAA spokeswoman, told SeafoodSource the agency is considering whether to appeal the decision. She added that the courts system has created conflicting rulings and that the agency supports Congressional action to give NOAA Fisheries clear authority over aquaculture.

“NOAA remains committed to expanding the social, environmental, and economic benefits of sustainable marine aquaculture in the U.S. It is important to note that this ruling is not a prohibition on marine aquaculture, either nationally or in the Gulf of Mexico, and we will continue to work with stakeholders though existing policies and legislation to increase aquaculture permitting efficiency and predictability,” Lyons said.


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