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Oceana Asks Court to Require NMFS to Adjust Anchovy Fishing Limits

A variety of seafood on ice.

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In a complaint filed in the Northern District of California on Friday, Oceana, Inc. asked for declaratory and injunctive relief from United States agencies, claiming that they had a “near-fanatical determination to ignore science” when setting catch limits for the central subpopulation of northern anchovy that do not change based on the status of the anchovy population.

The filing listed as defendants the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), and Wynn Coggins as the Acting Secretary of Commerce. Oceana claimed that the court has already ruled that the fishery management approach currently used by the defendants breaks laws and harms fish ecosystems. Specifically, it alleged that the court has ruled twice in the last two years that NMFS should change its rule regarding anchovy fishing limits. 

In response to these rulings, the complaint reported that the “NMFS irrationally cherry-picked four recent years of data showing high abundance and used that to set unchanging catch limits that will remain in place indefinitely and, contrary to the Court’s holdings, again disregarded other available and reliable information from low abundance years.”

Oceana, an ocean conservation non-profit organization, argued that the agency should adjust catch limits regularly based on population, citing that the anchovy population is known to grow and sink. Despite this, they said, fishing vessels are allowed to catch 25,000 metric tons of anchovy each year, which, when anchovy numbers are low, can lead to a significant loss in anchovy population. 

The complaint explained that “the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act requires NMFS to manage federal fisheries based on the best scientific information available to prevent overfishing and protect the marine ecosystem.” It alleged that the NMFS does not follow this law with its Catch Rule or with the Coastal Pelagic Species Fishery Management Plan. 

Further, the plaintiff claimed that the NMFS violated the Administrative Procedure Act and the Magnuson-Stevens Act when it set stagnant catch limits, did not show how the catch limit “accounts for the needs of marine predators when the anchovy population declines,” and set limits which did not respond to population changes. 

Oceana is represented by attorneys with EarthJustice

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