The National Marine Fisheries Service’s plan for managing fisheries along the Atlantic coast will protect dusky sharks and hold fishermen and women accountable for accidental catches, the D.C. Circuit affirmed Tuesday in a loss for a conservation group.
Oceana Inc. saw criticism from the US Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, which said the group’s arguments were “muddled” and that it wasted space “plucking quotations from our court’s opinions and stringing them together without analysis.”
The court also strongly rejected allegations of rubber stamping an agency action, saying it has never “used or even owned a rubber stamp” and has never “credited a supposition that was lacking in support.”
Dusky sharks, which are highly migratory and can grow to weigh about 400 pounds, became threatened due to overfishing to meet the demand for shark fins in Asian markets.
The Fisheries Service closed a large area off the coast of North Carolina to bottom longline fishing for the first half of the year to protect the sharks. The agency later amended its Fisheries Management plan for migratory species to add, among other requirements, greater training for fishermen, new protocols for releasing sharks, and a requirement to use circle hooks.
Oceana argued the agency failed to implement measures to enforce its zero catch limit for dusky sharks. But the agency’s closure of the fishery, where fishermen can’t fish for dusky sharks, will implement the zero catch limit, the court said.
The agency’s additional measures will curb overfishing of dusky sharks by reducing bycatch, according to the ruling.
The agency relied on multiple studies to support its finding that circle hooks will reduce deaths of dusky sharks, the court said. It also cited studies to show fishermen education can improve compliance and reduce post-release death rates, according to the ruling.
“The Service therefore had solid grounds on which to conclude that the training-and-certification requirements would reduce dusky-shark mortality,” the court said in rejecting the group’s arguments to the contrary.
Judge A. Raymond Randolph wrote the opinion and was joined by Judges Judith W. Rogers and Neomi Rao.
Earthjustice represented Oceana Inc. The Justice Department represented the federal government.
The case is Oceana Inc. v. Raimondo, D.C. Cir., No. 21-05120, 6/7/22.
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