A U.S. district court judge in Alaska has issued a ruling that will free up millions of pounds of Alaska pollock to enter the country.
At least 26 million pounds of Alaska pollock had been stuck en route to the U.S. due to a sudden flurry of fines issued by U.S. Customs and Border Protection against entities it accused of violating the Jones Act, which requires transportation of domestically-caught seafood inside the country to be undertaken by vessels that are U.S.-built and U.S.-owned.
U.S. District Court Judge for the District of Alaska Sharon L. Gleason originally ruled against American Seafoods subsidiaries Alaska Reefer Management LLC (ARM) and Kloosterboer International Forwarding LLC (KIF), but once they complied with Gleason’s requirements that they file a rate tariff application with the U.S. Surface Transportation Board for their Bayside Program, which brings Alaska pollock into the U.S. via New Brunswick, Canada, they renewed their request for an injunction against CBP. This time, Gleason sided with ARM and KIF in an 8 October ruling.
“The court finds that the balance of hardships tips sharply in plaintiffs’ favor and that the public interest weighs in favor of issuing a preliminary injunction,” Gleason wrote.
The preliminary injunction granted by Gleason covers the 26 million pounds of seafood previously shipped from Alaska and stalled just over the border in Bayside, New Brunswick, Canada, as well as future shipments from Alaska through this route, until the broader dispute with CBP is resolved in court, according to a press release from the two companies.
“We are very appreciative of the court’s ruling,” ARM President Per Brautaset said. “Today’s order will allow us to immediately resume distributing Alaska seafood from the cold storage facility in Bayside, Canada without the threat of further Customs fines. This will help to resolve shortages of frozen seafood that have already impacted food processors and their employees.”
KIF Logistics and Operations Director Jennifer Adamski said the companies are have already begun to once again advance the pollock through the supply chain.
“We were forced to halt shipping over 50 days ago. As a result, 26 million pounds of Alaska produced seafood products remain in the Bayside cold storage, unable to reach U.S. seafood manufacturers at a time when the supply chain is severely strained,” Adamski said. “It will require an all-out effort to deliver the stalled Alaska seafood to the U.S. producers as quickly as possible.”
In her ruling, Gleason said CBP’s position – that the companies could appeal their fines through the agency and that they had other means by which to bring the pollock into the U.S. – did not outweigh the damage done by the sudden onslaught of fines faced by ARM, KIF, and their affiliates.
“The fact that plaintiffs may have the option for some relief from defendants does not preclude them from seeking separate relief from this court. And while defendants note that plaintiffs’ supply chain is not at a ‘complete standstill,’ the court also finds that enjoining the issuance of additional notices of penalty during this litigation and precluding enforcement actions against third parties would be likely to ameliorate plaintiffs’ immediate harm by allowing the resumption of the [Bayside Program] while this case is pending,” Gleason wrote. “Given the sudden issuance of significant penalties to plaintiffs and their partners, including what appear to be questionable cumulative penalties on the same shipment, the court finds plaintiffs’ assertions of likely irreparable harm to their business operations if additional penalty notice are issued to be credible.”
Specifically, Gleason’s order precludes CBP from “ever issuing and enforcing any new notices of penalty for alleged violations of the Jones Act relating to shipments from Alaska to U.S. destinations through Bayside via the [Bayside Program] commenced or completed at any time from the date of [the] order until the date of the final judgment in this action, and regardless of the outcome of the action … including any such products that are in ocean transit or in cold storage facilities in Alaska or Bayside.”
Gleason wrote she “recognizes the need for an expedited resolution on the merits,” and called for an expedited schedule for hearing the full case, issuing the requirement that merits briefings be filed by Friday, 15 October.
Photo courtesy of American Seafoods