Federal Court Upholds
Rules Intended to Rebuild
Depleted Dogfish Stock
NMFS Northeast Region
N E W SGloucester, Mass.– A federal court in Boston has upheld fishing rules intended to rebuild depleted portions of the spiny dogfish stock off the Northeast.
While noting that the court "sympathizes greatly with the individuals involved in the spiny dogfish fishing and processing industry," Judge Edward F. Harrington concluded that the rules passed all legal challenges made in the suit, filed by several Northeastern seafood processors with operations that use of high volumes of this small shark.
The suit claimed numerous violations of the law, and asked the judge to invalidate the fishery management plan, which is intended to restore the balance between males and females in the spiny dogfish population. The controversial rules are restrictive, essentially ending the directed fishery for several years.
Judge Harrington ruled that the federal government "...implemented the SDFMP [spiny dogfish fishery management plan] and the interim final rule in a reasoned manner, pursuant to statute, and supported by substantial evidence in the record." He concluded, "As a sick person must undergo painful surgery and then convalesce for a short time in order to regain his health, a sick fishery must suffer this drastic procedure and then conserve itself for a short time in order to recover its full vitality."
The fishery developed rapidly in the early 1990s as international markets opened and vessels sought species other than traditional groundfish as these stocks contracted. Female spiny dogfish grow larger than the males, and are the target of the fishery. Landings increased from fewer than 10 million pounds in 1989 to more than 30 million pounds in 1990 and averaging 50 million pounds annually between 1995 and 1999.
The spiny dogfish plan was developed and adopted jointly by the Mid-Atlantic and the New England Fishery Management Councils. The plan is intended to end targeted fishing for dogfish, resulting in a bycatch-only fishery to promote rebuilding. It includes a quota, however the two councils were unable to agree on a quota amount, the first under the plan, for fishing year which began May 1. The Mid-Atlantic Council had endorsed a quota of 2.9 million pounds while the New England Fishery Management Council had recommended a quota of approximately 14 million pounds.
The Secretary of Commerce, who must approve all plans, delayed implementation of the plan three times to allow the two fishery management councils to reach agreement on the annual quota amount. When they failed to do so, then-secretary William Daley took action on May 4 to establish a quota of 4 million pounds as well trip limits, which were another matter on which the councils could not agree.
Writing about this action, which was challenged, Judge Harrington wrote, "May 1, 2000, the start of this year's fishing season, came and went without and agreement by the councils. Had the Secretary failed to implement the interim final rule, the unregulated fishery would have faced a tragic open fishing season."
The court also noted that much of the plaintiffs argument was based on the fact that the plan would end the targeted fishery, at least for the next five years. "Any fishery management plan must, first and foremost, contain measures which prevent overfishing and rebuild fish stocks," wrote Harrington.
The decision was issued July 28, 2000 in the U.S. District Court of the State of Massachusetts in the matter of A.M.I. International, Inc. et al. v. The Honorable William H. Daley, civil action no. 00-10241-EFH.