Oceana takes NOAA Fisheries to court again over northern California anchovy fishery

Oceana is once again taking the federal government to court over claims it is failing to protect the anchovy stock in Northern California.

Lawyers from Earthjustice filed a lawsuit on behalf of the environmental organization on Friday, 28 June in a federal court in California. The suit came nearly a month after NOAA Fisheries published a new rule establishing catch limits on the species, a rule that was required by a federal district judge in a case also brought forward by Oceana.

In the rule, which will take effect Monday, 1 July, NOAA Fisheries set the catch limit at 23,573 metric tons. The agency also stated the fishery would be stopped until the next season if the limit is reached.

In the lawsuit filed Friday, Oceana claimed the new NOAA Fisheries rule was almost similar to the 2016 rule a federal judge previously struck down.

NOAA Fisheries considers the anchovy a “monitored” stock, which means its catch limits are not based on annual surveys. Instead, such stocks have catch limits that are set at 25 percent of the stock’s overfishing limit.

In the complaint, Oceana said NOAA Fisheries fails to take into account that the anchovy stock can go through a “boom or bust” phase, which means the biomass goes through steep increases and declines. 

“We remain frustrated that the Fisheries Service continues to ignore state of the art fish population surveys produced by their own scientists when deciding how many anchovies fishermen can catch on an annual basis,” Geoff Shester, who serves as Oceana’s California campaign director and a senior scientist, said. “Ocean wildlife, fishing families, and local economies that include sportfishing and whale watching businesses are reliant on abundant populations of anchovy and other forage fish. Without sufficient availability of these fish, whales, sea lions, pelicans and other animals risk malnourishment which in turn inhibits their ability to successfully reproduce and raise their babies. We saw this a few years ago when more than 9,500 California sea lions washed ashore starving and emaciated.” 

U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh in California’s Northern District U.S. court first ruled on behalf of Oceana in January 2018 and reaffirmed the ruling in June 2018. In February of this year, Koh gave government officials 90 days to implement a new rule.

A spokeswoman for NOAA Fisheries declined comment, telling SeafoodSource it is the agency's practice not to discuss pending legal matters.


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