Limits Under Int’l Fishing Treaty Upheld

     WASHINGTON (CN) – Ruling on a constitutional challenge by fishing boat captains, a federal judge has upheld federal rules put in place as part of an international convention to protect against over-fishing of tuna and other migratory fish.
     After the U.S. ratified the internation convention to protect fish migrating in the Pacific ocean, federal agencies adopted rules limiting the tactics fishing boats could use in pursuing tuna.
     Specifically, the crews could not use lights to attract tuna before setting a purse seine net, described in the opinion as a “floated and weighted encircling net that is closed by means of a drawstring threaded through rings attached to the bottom of the net.”
     As part of the evidence introduced in the case, an observor had written, “They used fish aggregating light. I saw auxiliary boat #6 with fish aggregating light and the vessel made a set around it.”
     In a 63-page opinion, U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly found that the large fines against the boat captains and owners were amply justified. She also upheld the rules against a variety of constitutional and procedural challenges.
     “The court finds that the definition found in the regulation is not unconstitutionally vague,” said the judge.
     She said the captains and owners had violated the rules against over-fishing by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration 19 times and violated rules under the federal Marine Mammal Protection Act five times.
     The boat owners argued that they were using lights for safety. The judge rejected that argument.
      Kollar-Kotelly noted that Sea Quest captain Matthew James Freitas said on record that the lights “were used at least partly in the hopes of keeping fish in place.”
     Kollar-Kotelly also rejected claims that testimony from unreliable witnesses played too big of a role in the fines against the fishing vessel owners and operators.
     One of the witnesses at issue spoke of having received a bribe from his boat’s fishing master to not report violations.
     This witness “turned over the money ($440) following the trip and received a $2,000 award after the fact for reporting the bribe,” the opinion states.
     In trying to characterize the money as a misunderstanding, the fishing-vessel plaintiffs had argued that “the money was not a bribe but rather was ‘happy money’ that the fishing master regularly gave to crew members for good luck.”
     Attorneys for the parties have not returned requests for comment.

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