(CN) – The National Marine Fisheries Service did not violate any federal environmental laws when it amended a management plan to address its concerns about trawl fishing, a federal judge ruled.
The Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations had said the federal agencies that manage West Coast trawl fishing “did not go through a real deliberative process” before they enacted quotas for fishermen.
Trawling involves dragging a net behind boats to catch fish. The process has been criticized for its role in overfishing and catching unintended species, among other things.
A 2004 study by the National Marine Fisheries Service and Pacific Fishery Management Council found “serious biological, social, and economic concerns” with commercial fisheries, particularly with trawl fishing.
In response, the council drafted a “capacity rationalization plan” and amended the Pacific Coast Groundfish Fishery Management Plan.
The plan manages more than 90 species of fishes that live near the ocean floor off the coasts of Washington, Oregon and California.
It aimed to create a plan that would help fisheries economically, while considering the environmental impact on caught fish and create accountability.
In October 2010, the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations sued Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke, the National Marine Fisheries Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in California’s Northern District.
The action claimed the agencies’ creation of quotas “lock[ed] into place the dominance of bottom trawl fishing in this major ocean fishery.”
They challenged the amendments under the Magnunson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act and the National Environmental Policy Act.
But U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer dismissed the complaint Friday, finding that the amendments were “based upon the best scientific information available” and that the plan’s “sole purpose” was not economic efficiency.
The judge also said the agencies had considered a range of alternatives when they prepared environmental impact statements for the amendments, and that the statements “took a hard look at environmental impacts” of the plan.
“Given the spatial scales of experimental results, incomplete habitat maps, and trawl effort reporting data, it is difficult to assess the ecosystem-level effects of trawling,” Breyer wrote.