Environmentalists Can’t Help Defend Fishing Rules

WASHINGTON (CN) — Three environmental groups cannot join the U.S. government to defend against a challenge to an Obama administration rule requiring seafood companies to report the origin of the fish they sell, a federal judge ruled.

The National Resources Defense Council, the Center for Biological Diversity and Oceana asked the court on March 7 to join the government in defending a suit from a group of fishing companies challenging the seafood traceability rule, which requires companies to disclose on a government form the vessel or collection point of origin for their fish.

The companies say the rule will make seafood more expensive. The environmentalists say it is critical to protecting fish populations from illegal fishing. The environmentalists made specific arguments in support of the rule, telling U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta that reversal would affect their daily lives.

Rachel Golden Kroner, in a declaration supporting Oceana, said that if the companies invalidate the seafood traceability rule she would be at greater risk of buying illegally fished seafood, preventing her from making “sustainable seafood choices.”

Todd Steiner, with the Center for Biological Diversity, said that without the rule he would have a harder time studying at-risk populations.

But on Monday Mehta shot down their chance to make their case in court, saying the groups had not shown that overturning the rule would harm them enough to give them standing in the case.

“An uncertain lessening of risk to the ills of [illegal, unregulated and unreported] fishing – which is already illegal – is simply too abstract to satisfy the ‘concrete’ injury requirement,” Mehta wrote, citing the 2016 Supreme Court ruling in Spokeo Inc. v Robins. “Admittedly, actually buying illegally purchased or mislabeled at-risk fish against one’s desires, or the substantial likelihood of a reduced opportunity to view and study at-risk fish species might qualify as a concrete injury. However, the injuries claimed here are one step removed from such injuries.”

Under precedent, which could change with a Supreme Court that was case argued the same day Mehta issued his opinion, intervenors need to show both concrete and particularized harm to achieve standing and join a case. Mehta determined the ills that would befall the intervenors in this case are either too similar to those the general public would suffer or cannot be blamed directly on the change in rule.

He also found that the groups did not establish why the government’s defense would be inadequate for their cause. There is not enough evidence that a change from the Obama administration to the Trump administration will necessarily kill the rule and it is not clear the groups would bring anything new to the case, Mehta wrote. “Thus it seems applicants’ participation as parties in this matter would result in duplicative pleadings and arguments.”

Beth Lowell, Oceana’s senior director of illegal fishing and seafood fraud, said she was disappointed by the ruling. “The Seafood Import Monitoring Program is important as it will increase traceability and reporting for seafood imports at high risk of illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing and seafood fraud, helping to ensure that seafood sold in the United States is safe, legally caught and honestly labeled,” Lowell said in a statement Wednesday.

The National Resources Defense Council and the Center for Biological Diversity did not respond to requests for comment.