US District Judge Gladys Kessler said that the environmentalists lacked standing in the suit. (Photo: uscourts.gov/NOAA)
Judge rules against green groups in aquaculture suit
Wednesday, August 18, 2010, 23:50 (GMT + 9)
A federal judge in Washington, DC, ruled against three environmental groups that were trying to sue a management plan for offshore fish-farming operations in the Gulf of Mexico that the government has not yet approved. The operations would produce up to 64 million lb of fish yearly.
The Gulf Restoration Network, Food and Water Watch and the Ocean Conservancy, according to US District Judge Gladys Kessler, lacked standing to sue. The lawsuit could not progress because separate federal regulations have not yet been issued for the plan.
“Industrial, offshore fish farms produce lower quality fish for consumers due to overcrowding and antibiotic use and are detrimental to the surrounding ocean environment,” said Executive Director of Food & Water Watch Wenonah Hauter.
“Given the current challenges facing the Gulf, it is important that we avoid introducing any additional factors that could jeopardize the region’s socio-economic or environmental health. Factory fish farms do not exist in the federal waters off the coast of the US for good reason, and we should keep it that way,” Hauter added.
Although the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council approved the plan in January, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) did not take action on it. The explanation was that the range of the operation was unprecedentedly wide and the plan raised "important issues of national policy regarding the manner in which offshore aquaculture is regulated."
The Gulf plan’s implementation would allow some five to 20 offshore aquaculture operations to take place over the next decade, reports Courthouse News.
"It was not prudent to take action on the [plan] in the absence of a comprehensive national policy," NMFS told the local council.
The plan was automatically approved because NMFS neglected to make a move within 30 days. The plan, though, will not go into effect until the agency approves implementing regulations and holds additional hearings.
The three conservation groups claimed that the government’s failure to act violated the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act and the Administrative Procedure Act.
But Judge Kessler said the groups could not show how the plan might harmed them.
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," Kessler noted.
Even though the court admitted that the groups might have a case once regulations take effect, it said the Constitution "does not grant power to courts to preempt potential harm that is neither actual nor imminent."
Last May, a bill was introduced to set a national moratorium on offshore aquaculture. The Research and Aquaculture Opportunity and Responsibility Act would provide relief to fraught marine ecosystems, including those threatened by the recent BP oil spill in the Gulf, and would ban offshore aquaculture pending more research on its environmental and socio-economic effects.
Notably, Congress is now considering a conflicting bill, the National Sustainable Offshore Aquaculture Act of 2009, which would create a federal ocean aquaculture programme.
- Sustainable offshore aquaculture bill introduced
- Govt sued over offshore aquaculture plan
By Natalia Real