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North Carolina Fisheries Association Lawsuit Dismissed

North Carolina Fisheries Association Suit Dismissed

Federal Judge James C. Dever has dismissed a lawsuit by the N.C. Fisheries Association demanding that the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries either abandon all Incidental Take Permits regarding sea turtles or shut down recreational fishing until a similar plan can be applied to hook-and-line anglers.

In dismissing the complaint that was also brought by the N.C. Fisheries Association and the Carteret County Fisherman’s Association on behalf of all commercial fishermen in the state, Dever said the plaintiffs “lacked jurisdiction” to sue various state and federal agencies. This is legal wording that means neither of the two associations nor their members could offer an environmental or economic harm traceable to state and federal marine management policies.

Greg Hurt, chairman of the state’s Coastal Conservation Association, was pleased with the judge’s decision to dismiss the suit without going to trial. “While CCA was not a party to the lawsuit, we do represent thousands of recreational fishermen who could have been adversely affected had this specious suit gone forward. One of our primary goals is to protect the rights of the men, women and kids who recreationally fish.  This clearly unmerited claim would have severely impacted that goal.”

Hurt said, “Unfortunately, I don’t think a significant number of N.C. citizens realized what the NCFA was attempting to do. If successful they would have prevented families from enjoying one of our state’s favorite pastimes.”  Businesses that provide goods and services to recreational fishermen would have been devastated if the suit had halted all hook-and-line angling, he added.

Dever, the chief judge for the U.S. Eastern District of North Carolina, in his 19-page order dismissing the suit July 22, wrote, “Plaintiffs allege merely that NCFA and CCFA and its members have suffered injury to their economic and environmental interests, which are uniquely entwined with endangered and threatened sea turtles. The federal defendants argue that plaintiffs have not adequately alleged any valid injury-in-fact.”

Plaintiffs, meaning the associations, have not plausibly alleged either an economic or environmental injury sufficient to establishing standing in their own right, Dever wrote. “Plaintiffs’ conclusory allegation that they have suffered economic and environmental harm does not suffice.”
The associations also cannot establish representational standing, the judge continued. He did agree that the plaintiffs have plausibly alleged that their members have suffered economic harms but not an environmental injury. “The court will consider whether the economic injuries suffered by plaintiffs’ members are traceable to the challenged conduct and are likely to be redressed by a favorable decision by this court.”

Dever wrote that the plaintiffs have shown their members use the waters where sea turtles are allegedly being taken, but have not plausibly alleged that their members’ use of the waters is being “lessened by the challenged activity. Moreover, any claimed environmental injury due to the sea-turtle takings is not plausible in light of plaintiffs’ allegation that sea turtle populations are increasing and should be removed from the endangered species list. Thus, plaintiffs have not established traceability.”

As for plaintiffs’ argument that a favorable decision in this case could redress their members’ economic burdens, the judge called it “entirely speculative. The redressability prong requires that it be likely, and not merely speculative, that a favorable decision from the court will remedy the plaintiff’s injury.”

Dever noted nothing suggests that if sea turtle taking regulations were enforced on the recreational hook and line fishery, there would be a lessening of the commercial fishing industry’s regulatory burdens and compliance costs. He concluded, “The plaintiffs have failed to plausibly allege that the federal defendants are causing sea-turtle takings to be committed. Thus, the court grants the motions (from both federal and state defendants) to dismiss for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction.


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