RFA and Allies File Lawsuit Against NMFS Over Black Sea Bass Closure

In a 40-page legal challenge submitted before the U.S. District Court of New Jersey on November 4, the Recreational Fishing Alliance (RFA) and industry allies have officially brought legal action against the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), and U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke due to the recent recreational closure of the Atlantic recreational black sea bass fishery.   The challenge contends that the recent closure is not only unprecedented for a fish whose stocks are considered rebuilt and not overfished, but that the action is also based upon “misapplication and misuse of a fatally flawed angler survey which NMFS itself has acknowledged is not to be used for this type of decision.”

Filed for a dozen specifically named plaintiffs, the official complaint for declaratory and injunctive relief requested expedited consideration in hopes of reversing the six-month sea bass closure as quickly as possible on behalf all saltwater anglers and fishery dependent businesses.  According to Capt. Tony Bogan, plaintiff of the United Boatmen, the recent closure of sea bass is only a part of legal equation.  “This goes way behind sea bass,” Bogan said of the legal argument, adding “it addresses the potential action by NMFS in the future to arbitrarily close fisheries on a whim or because of survey trends or ideology.’

By closing a recreational fishery based on the fatally flawed recreational survey (MRFSS), the suit contends that the government violated numerous provisions of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, the Regulatory Flexibility Act, the Administrative Procedure Act, and National Standard guidelines issued by NMFS.  Additionally, it charges the defendants with ignoring countervailing information and for failure to consider less severe alternatives.  “As a result of defendants’ actions, and failure to comply with the law, the Plaintiffs have suffered, and will continue to suffer, immediate, substantial and irreparable harm, for which there is no adequate remedy at law, and for which they seek expedited relief.”

Herb Moore, Jr., RFA co-counsel said the disregard for the spirit and intent of the Magnuson Stevens Act is one thing, but the clear disregard for the legal requirements of the federal fisheries law is something that leads him to be cautiously optimistic.  “These cases are very hard to win, but I think we’ve got some very strong arguments,” Moore said, adding “NMFS was extremely arrogant with their sea bass decision and we’re calling them out on this one.”  Moore charges that NMFS was very deliberate in their actions, explaining “they purposely chose an insular approach designed to block public scrutiny by claiming that they had good cause to waive prior notice and the opportunity for public comment.”

To view full legal challenge submitted on behalf of the recreational fishing community, visit the Recreational Fishing Alliance (RFA) homepage at www.joinrfa.org (see RFA Legal Defense Fund – The Fight For Angler’s Rights.)  Anglers and business owners interested in joining the coalition and supporting the legal challenge are encouraged to look for the Donate button on the RFA homepage. Donations may also be mailed to:

RFA Legal Defense Fund
PO Box 3080
New Gretna, NJ 08224
A national, grassroots political action organization representing recreational fishermen and the recreational fishing industry on marine fisheries issues, the RFA is dedicating all checks made payable to the RFA Legal Defense Fund directly towards these legal efforts outlined above.  All donations will be tracked individually, from all groups and individual anglers.

As of the court filing date, $18,855 in donations have been collected towards the initial challenge, though the plaintiffs expect that the real fight is now set to begin.

“This is the beginning of the battle, not the ending by any means,” said Moore.