CCA continues fight against sector separation

Controversial sector separation ruling goes to U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit

Posted on March 23, 2016

NEW ORLEANS, LA (3-21-16) – The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit has announced that it will receive briefs on Coastal Conservation Association’s appeal of the ruling on its Amendment 40 lawsuit on April 27.

Amendment 40 is a controversial plan that created a charter/for-hire sector in the Gulf of Mexico red snapper fishery and reserved a significant percentage of the recreational quota exclusively for its use. It is widely understood that the new charter/for-hire sector will emulate the privatized commercial red snapper sector in which shares of red snapper are privately owned by individuals for their own use and profit. Earlier this year, a lower court ruled against CCA’s arguments opposing Amendment 40, electing instead to defer to NOAA Fishery’s interpretation of statutory provisions governing the nation’s marine resources.

“We believe there is simply too much at stake to not continue the fight on this issue,” said Bill Bird, chairman of CCA’s National Government Relations Committee. “The federal government clearly intends to carve up public marine resources and distribute them to businesses to use for their profit, and we believe that is a fundamentally wrong course of action. While it is very common for courts to give federal agencies discretion in interpreting the wishes of Congress, we believe NOAA Fisheries is far outside its bounds in this case. We are hopeful the Court of Appeals will examine the facts more critically, rather than simply deferring to NOAA Fisheries’ dubious judgement.”

The principle that courts should defer to an agency's interpretation of a statute is known as the Chevron Doctrine and has its roots in a 1984 Supreme Court ruling. Last week, a bill was introduced in the U.S. Senate that would clarify that courts, not agencies, are to interpret all questions of law, including both statutes and regulations. The bill’s sponsors say the Chevron Doctrine has allowed agencies like NOAA Fisheries to rewrite laws and issue regulations as they see fit.

“It is inconceivable that anyone in Congress intended for NOAA Fisheries to not only allow public marine resources to be privatized, but to encourage and facilitate such schemes at the expense of the public,” said Bird. “This privatization scheme is being driven by a select few individuals who stand to  personally reap financial benefits, and it must be stopped.”

In addition to filing the appeal, CCA is also actively supporting legislation introduced by Rep. Garret Graves (R-La.) H.R. 3094 - the Gulf States Red Snapper Management Authority Act – that will grant legal recognition to a plan adopted by the fish and wildlife agencies of all five Gulf states to assume management of the Gulf red snapper in federal waters. The bill currently has 28 bi-partisan co-sponsors and has the support of a coalition of organizations representing the saltwater recreational fishing and boating community.