Government Sued to Protect Prey of Whales, Dolphins and Seals

Government ignores science and illegally allows overfishing of key species


Ashley Blacow, Oceana, (831) 643-9220


Ben Enticknap, Oceana, (503) 235-0278


Andrea Treece, Earthjustice, (415) 217-2089

Today Oceana, the largest international advocacy group working solely to protect the world’s oceans, filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court of Northern California challenging the National Marine Fisheries Service’s (NMFS) approval of Amendment 13 to the Coastal Pelagic Species Fishery Management Plan for fisheries that take place off California, Oregon and Washington. Oceana, represented by the public interest law firm Earthjustice, charged NMFS with failing to protect key species, such as Pacific sardine and anchovy, that serve as the base of the ocean food web. The lawsuit claims NMFS fails to prevent overfishing, fails to account for the species’ ecological role when setting catch limits, and fails to adequately analyze the implications of their actions.

“America’s fisheries laws mandate protection for the species that form the base of the ocean food web,” said Whit Sheard, Pacific Counsel and Senior Advisor for Oceana. “When the government fails in this task, the rest of the ocean ecosystem, as well as the industries that depend upon it, pay the long term costs.”

In 2006 Congress reauthorized and amended the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act to include new requirements designed to prevent overfishing and foster more precautionary, scientifically sound management of fisheries. NMFS then revised the guidelines that govern how fishery managers set optimum catch levels and other measures to achieve these goals. These guidelines reaffirmed that fisheries managers must explicitly take into account the ecological importance of species to the ocean food web. The guidelines also repeatedly stress the importance of adequately protecting forage species, such as Pacific sardine and anchovy.

Based on these revisions, the Pacific Fishery Management Council (PFMC) which advises NMFS on federal fishery management, developed Amendment 13 to the Coastal Pelagic Species Fishery Management Plan (FMP). The FMP regulates fishing for certain forage species, such as sardine, krill, herring, mackerel, and anchovy. Amendment 13 was intended to bring the current FMP into compliance with the 2006 Magnuson-Stevens reauthorization requirements. However, Amendment 13 falls short of the law’s requirements and conflicts with clear direction from NMFS on the measures required to manage these important species.

“Fishery managers must take into account not only what fish might be available for catch, but also how much to leave in the ocean for other species like seals, dolphins, whales, and salmon that rely on the smaller fish,” said Earthjustice attorney Andrea Treece.

Oceana worked throughout the PFMC process in attempt to ensure that both the changes to the FMP and the annual catch specifications met the new requirements of the 2006 reauthorization act. Oceana’s Pacific Project Manager, Ben Enticknap, served on the fishery council’s Coastal Pelagic Species Advisory Panel which is tasked with providing advice to the council on forage species management. With the exception of the one conservation representative, the panel is made up entirely of industry members who represent the commercial fisheries and processors that catch forage species.

“We worked really hard in the trenches of the management process, but our grave concerns regarding forage species exploitation and our suggestions to improve management were largely ignored.” Disappointed by the failure of the process, Mr. Enticknap today resigned from the committee on which he has served for five years. “When the desire for short-term profits dominates the discussion, the long-term health of the ecosystem is ignored.”

The lawsuit seeks to compel NMFS to do the following when managing forage species in the Coastal Pelagic Species Fishery Management Plan:

  • Set an “optimum yield” catch level that includes leaving enough forage fish as prey for the other marine life that rely upon these important components of the food web.
  • Set required limits and reference points to prevent overfishing.
  • Use the best science in determining catch levels and overfishing limits.
  • Consider the role of forage fish in the ecosystem and the impacts of removing large amounts of forage fish as part of the required environmental analysis.

Read the complaint.

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