Court Ruling Confirms Rule of Science

Lawsuit challenging snapper/grouper data upholds concept of best available science for fisheries management.

Posted on December 23, 2008

WASHINGTON DC – A recent United States Court of Appeals ruling rejected arguments by the commercial fishing industry to overturn regulations designed to end overfishing of snowy grouper and other deep-water species, confirming again that the best available science provides the only viable basis for management of the nation’s marine resources.

In seeking to have the regulations overturned, the North Carolina Fisheries Association, a mid-Atlantic commercial fishing group, argued that the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council used inadequate data and a flawed assessment process to determine that steep harvest restrictions are necessary to recover overfished stocks of snowy grouper and golden tilefish. The Council used the best available information to promulgate Amendment 13C to the Snapper/Grouper Fishery Management Plan. Although data on many deepwater species is scarce, the Council’s assessment was created by more than 20 scientists and user-group representatives through the SEDAR process, and the findings were peer-reviewed by outside stock assessment specialists.  Through this exhaustive process, the science indicating that reduced harvest is warranted was confirmed.
 
“There is a distinct difference between the best conceivable science and the best available science, and the courts obviously understand how critical that distinction is,” said Scott Whitaker, executive director of Coastal Conservation Association South Carolina. “The absence of perfect science is no excuse to continue overfishing the resource. Many of the fisheries problems we are dealing with now were allowed to fester and grow due to managers’ unwillingness to do what was necessary to manage resources properly in the past. That mentality has to change, and the Court confirmed that those days are over.”
 
The Court’s ruling clears the way for Amendment 13C to be implemented and begin addressing the severe challenges facing these species, all of which are long-lived, slow-reproducing fish.
 
“As an organization dedicated to science-based, resource-first conservation, CCA is committed to doing what is necessary to recover these resources as quickly as possible,” said Richen Brame, CCA Atlantic States fisheries director. “As fishermen, we may not always like the short-term results, but as conservationists we believe that this process is necessary to do what has to be done to reverse decades of mismanagement. We have endured these types of sacrifices in striped bass and red drum, among other species, and now, they are some of the strongest fisheries in the nation. In the end, abundant stocks will benefit everyone, especially the recreational fishery.”
 
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CCA is the largest marine resource conservation group of its kind in the nation. With almost 100,000 members in 17 state chapters, CCA has been active in state, national and international fisheries management issues since 1977. Visit www.JoinCCA.org for more information.
 
CONTACT: Ted Venker, 1-800-201-FISH