Environmental Advocacy Group Files Suit Against NMFS

Oceana, Inc. filed a suit Wednesday in the Northern District of California alleging that the defendant agencies lacked effort in rebuilding the Pacific Coast’s population of sardines. The suit, which was filed against Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), seeks both declaratory and injunctive relief.

The suit comes after NMFS recently approved an amendment to the Coastal Pelagic Fisheries Management Plan that the plaintiff argued “fails to rebuild the Pacific sardine population to healthy levels,” which they claim is a direct violation of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA). Oceana stressed that both the West Coast marine ecosystem and the fisheries depend on the sardine population. Pacific sardine levels have been fluctuating dramatically since the 1930’s. Since then, overfishing and poor environmental stewardship has purportedly run the population down to a state of near collapse.

The NMFS is required by the MSA to provide rebuilding plans for overfished populations like the sardines. Instead of implementing a new plan, the NMFS allegedly retitled an existing management plan as the new rebuilding plan which Oceana argued is a “continuation of the same status quo measures that resulted in an overfished population and under which the population continues to decline.” Oceana asserted that the measures in the new amendment are “disproven, status quo management measures” that will ultimately inhibit the sardine population from recovering to a functional level, thereby affecting the surrounding ecosystem.

Oceana has a keen interest in “rebuilding and maintaining a healthy and sustainable population of Pacific sardine and a healthy ocean ecosystem,” to which the defendants are acting as direct adversaries. By failing to use the best available science, Oceana believes that the amendment will perpetuate rather than fix the problem. This amendment was introduced in light of the defendant’s conducting of their own analysis, which evidenced their inefficiency and failure to rebuild the population, Oceana argued.

According to Oceana, the introduction of the amendment in question violates multiple sections of the MSA, the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The plaintiff is seeking a declaration that the defendants violated the MSA, APA, and NEPA, that the defendants vacate the amendment in question and replace the amendment with a new rebuilding plan.

Oceana is represented by Earthjustice.