Two dolphins swimming through waves

Marine Species

Under the Mag­nu­son-Stevens Fish­ery Con­ser­va­tion and Man­age­ment Act, region­al fish­ery man­age­ment coun­cils can estab­lish reg­u­la­to­ry lim­its on the num­ber of marine species that can be caught in a giv­en fish­ing sea­son. In 2016, the Pacif­ic Fish­ery Man­age­ment Coun­cil, which cov­ers Cal­i­for­nia, Ore­gon, and Wash­ing­ton, pro­posed lim­its on the bycatch of threat­ened and endan­gered species, such as whales, dol­phins, and sea tur­tles, in the Cal­i­for­nia gill­net fish­ery. Bycatch are marine species that fish­er­men catch and dis­card because they can­not sell or are oth­er­wise not allowed to keep.

The Nation­al Marine Fish­eries Ser­vice (NMFS), which has to make a deter­mi­na­tion that a region­al fish­ery man­age­ment council’s plan is con­sis­tent with applic­a­ble law, affirmed the pro­posed 2016 bycatch lim­it before lat­er revers­ing the affir­ma­tive determination. 


  • July 2017

    An envi­ron­men­tal orga­ni­za­tion, in July 2017, sued the NMFS over the rever­sal, claim­ing that NMFS vio­lat­ed the Mag­nu­son-Stevens Act and the Admin­is­tra­tive Pro­ce­dure Act. Wash­ing­ton Attor­ney Gen­er­al Bob Fer­gu­son filed an ami­cus brief in the lit­i­ga­tion in fed­er­al dis­trict court in Cal­i­for­nia in sup­port of the envi­ron­men­tal orga­ni­za­tion, not­ing that NMFS vio­lat­ed the process laid out in the Mag­nu­son-Stevens Act for review­ing region­al fish­eries’ pro­pos­als by uni­lat­er­al­ly revers­ing its orig­i­nal affir­ma­tive determination.

  • Octo­ber 2018

    In Octo­ber 2018, the fed­er­al dis­trict court sided with Attor­ney Gen­er­al Fer­gu­son in grant­i­ng the envi­ron­men­tal organization’s motion for sum­ma­ry judge­ment.

  • Jan­u­ary 2019

    In Jan­u­ary 2019, NMFS appealed the fed­er­al dis­trict court order to the Ninth Cir­cuit Court of Appeals. Wash­ing­ton Attor­ney Gen­er­al Fer­gu­son suc­cess­ful­ly inter­vened in the appeal in Jan­u­ary 2019.

  • April 2019

    In April 2019, NMFS acknowl­edged defeat and dropped the appeal.