(CN) – Three environmental groups were unable to convince a federal judge in Washington, D.C., to block plans for offshore fish-farming operations in the Gulf of Mexico that are expected to produce up to 64 million pounds of fish a year.
U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler ruled that the Gulf Restoration Network, Food and Water Watch and the Ocean Conservancy lacked standing to sue over a management plan that the government has yet to approve.
The Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council approved the plan last January, but the National Marine Fisheries Service took no action on it. It explained that the scope of the operation was broader than any previously submitted, and the plan raised “important issues of national policy regarding the manner in which offshore aquaculture is regulated.”
Aquaculture is the farming of aquatic animals in the open ocean, often with floating or submerged nets or cages.
If implemented, the Gulf plan would permit an estimated five to 20 offshore aquaculture operations over the next 10 years, producing up to 64 million pounds of fish per year.
The national agency told the local council that “it was not prudent to take action on the [plan] in the absence of a comprehensive national policy.”
Because the agency failed to act within 30 days, the plan was automatically approved. However, it will not take effect until the agency has approved implementing regulations and has held more hearings.
The environmental groups claimed that government, through its inaction, violated the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act and the Administrative Procedure Act.
Judge Kessler dismissed the claims, saying the groups failed to show how they might be harmed by the plan.
Kessler pointed out that the “agency action is not final and no aquaculture has been permitted or taken place; therefore, no injury has occurred and the matter is unfit for judicial review.”
The court acknowledged that the groups might have a case when the regulations take effect, but said the Constitution “does not grant power to courts to preempt potential harm that is neither actual nor imminent.”