Commercial Fishers Challenge the Allocation of Red Grouper to Recreational Fishers Under Fishery Management Plan for Gulf of Mexico

On Friday, A.P. Bell Fish Company, Inc., Southern Offshore Fishing Association, Inc. and Gulf of Mexico Reef Fish Shareholders’ Alliance filed a complaint in D.C. District Court against the Secretary of the Department of Commerce, Gina Raimondo, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) alleging violations of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA), the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the Administrative Procedure Act. 

According to the complaint, A.P. Bell Fish Company is a Florida commercial fishing, fish processing and distribution company. Additionally, the complaint states that Southern Offshore Fishing is a Florida non-profit trade association organized to promote fresh, high quality, domestic seafood and works to keep the Gulf of Mexico clean and environmentally secure. Further, the complaint states that Mexico Reef Fish Shareholders’ Alliance is a Texas non-profit trade organization representing commercial fish harvesters in the Gulf of Mexico. 

The plaintiffs state that they brought the present case to challenge Amendment 53 to the Fishery Management Plan for the Reef Fish Resources of the Gulf of Mexico. The complaint purports that Amendment 53 increases the recreational sector’s allocation of the Gulf of Mexico red grouper catch limit from 24 percent to 40.7 percent and correspondingly decreases the commercial sector’s allocation from 76 percent to 59.3 percent.

The plaintiffs argue that by taking fish away from the commercial fishing sector and giving it away to recreational fishers, Amendment 53 will increase waste, reduce the amount of fish available for consumption and increase the risk of overfishing. The plaintiffs argue that the recreational fishing sector is wasteful because catch-and-release and other practices result in hundreds of thousands of red grouper dying or being discarded each year. 

The plaintiffs further argue that Amendment 53 harms the commercial fishing sector and seafood consumers and jeopardizes conservation because recreational anglers are not required to report how many red groupers they keep or discard. Therefore, the plaintiffs state that the reallocation under Amendment 53 increases the risk that too many fish will be caught to sustain the stock. 

The complaint argues that Amendment 53 is unlawful because it is both procedurally and substantively deficient. Specifically, the plaintiffs allege that Amendment 53 is substantively deficient because it relies on unreliable and outdated information that the NMFS itself found erroneous. Further, the plaintiffs argue that Amendment 53 is procedurally deficient because it is based on post-hoc rulemaking to adopt actions that have already been implemented without undertaking any public rulemaking process. 

The plaintiffs seek injunctive and declaratory relief, attorney’s fees and costs for the defendant’s alleged violation of the MSA, NEPA and Administrative Procedure Act. The plaintiffs are represented by K&L Gates LLP