NEW ORLEANS – Several environmental groups and businesses have taken the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to court challenging their decision to allow aqua farms in federally protected waters of the Gulf of Mexico region.
Gulf Fishermen’s Association; Gulf Restoration Network; Gulf of Mexico Reef Fish Shareholders' Alliance; Charter Fisherman’s Association; Destin Charter Boat Association; Clearwater Marine Association; Alabama Charter Fishing Association; Fish for America USA Inc; Florida Wildlife Federation; Recirculating Farms Coalition; Food and Water Watch Inc; and Center for Food Safety filed a suit on Feb. 12 in the U.S. Eastern District Court of Louisiana against National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS); Eileen Sobeck, in her position as assistant administrator for NMFS; Roy Crabtree, in his position as regional administrator for NMFS; National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA); Kathryn Sullivan, in her position as under secretary for oceans and atmosphere and administrator for NOAA; and Penny Pritzker, in her capacity as U.S. secretary of commerce, claiming that the defendants have no authority to undertake such a matter and that allowing such aqua farms will damage the Gulf Region.
The plaintiffs assert that the defendants want to establish an unprecedented regulatory permitting scheme that would allow industrial aquaculture facilities to be constructed and licenses in federally protected waters in the Gulf of Mexico. They assert that these farms may potentially damage the fragile ecosystem of the gulf region. Such adverse impacts allegedly include: the escape of farmed fish; the spread of potentially deadly diseases and parasites to the wildlife; pollution of the ocean; privatization of public oceans; threats to marine life and ecosystems; market displacement due to cheaply farmed fishes; financial loss to fisherman of the region; and adverse effects on businesses and livelihood of residents in the region.
Furthermore, the plaintiffs assert that the defendants’ decision is unlawful because they do not have statutory authority to allow such an action. Plaintiffs allege that defendants are acting under the assumed authority of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA) but the MSA does not have jurisdiction over industrial aquaculture because it is not “fishing.” Plaintiffs argue that farming is not the same as fishing, which requires a vessel, and therefore defendants are unlawfully stretching their jurisdiction to allow the construction of aqua farms.
Plaintiffs also claim that defendants violated numerous fundamental MSA procedures such as circumventing regulations and research to finalize the decision. Plaintiffs also assert that defendants have also violated the National Environment Policy Act (NEPA), the Endangered Species Act (ESA), and the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) in the undertaking of their decision.
Plaintiffs are now asking the court to declare the Gulf Aquaculture EMP and Regulations as unlawful; adjudge and declare the that the decision by defendants to be in violations of MSA, NEPA, ESA, and APA; prevent defendants from taking any actions; issue an injunction requiring defendants to withdraw their assumed jurisdiction over the region and prohibit them from any actions; or alternatively, order defendants to undertake a new proposal that complies with MSA, NEPA, ESA and APA; and damages as well as court costs, attorney fees, and any other relief deemed just by the court.
They are represented by George A. Kimbrell, Sylvia Shih-Yau Wu and Cristina R. Stella from the Center for Food Safety in San Francisco and Marianne Cufone and Emily Posner from Recirculating Farms Coalition in New Orleans.
U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana Case number 2:16-CV-01271