Trump administration opts not to pursue appeal of driftnet ruling

Published on
April 23, 2019

The administration of U.S. President Donald Trump has decided against appealing a federal judge’s ruling that NOAA Fisheries illegally withdrew a proposal that would have placed hard caps on the bycatch of protected species caught in California’s swordfish drift gillnet fishery.

On Monday, 15 April, when its brief was due to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, the administration instead filed a notice to dismiss its appeal voluntarily. As a result, NOAA Fisheries will begin talks with the Pacific Fishery Management Council to determine the limits that should be placed on such species as humpback whales, loggerhead turtles, and leatherback turtles.

The PFMC initially worked with key stakeholders to establish caps on nine species, and NOAA Fisheries published the draft review for implementation in October 2016. However, eight months later, after Trump was elected president, the agency reversed its course.

That action led to Oceana filing a lawsuit against the Trump administration, claiming the withdrawal violated the Magnuson-Stevens Act. Bob Ferguson, attorney general for Washington state, filed an amicus brief in support of environmental group’s claims.

Drift gillnets typically are about a mile long and used at various depths to catch swordfish. While smaller fish usually have little problem maneuvering through them, larger marine species – including bottlenose dolphins and humpback whales – can become entangled in them. Those encounters can lead to injury and death for endangered species.

Last October, a U.S. district judge in California ruled in Oceana’s favor. The government signaled its intent to appeal in January before pulling back last week.

“The action by the Trump administration further validates that a fair public, [scientific], and legal process will win over efforts to skirt the law,” Oceana Deputy Vice President, Pacific Susan Murray said. “Now that the federal administration has dropped its appeal, the Fisheries Service needs to get itself back on track to implementing the protections that whales, dolphins, and sea turtles deserve.”

In September, then-governor of California Jerry Brown signed a bill into California law that would phase out the use of such nets over a four-year period.

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