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Government Relations

What’s at Stake at the Supreme Court?

For the sake of our planet and our health, we need the Supreme Court to keep the Chevron Doctrine in place.

The Supreme Court of the United States is poised to upend the role of expert federal agencies in implementing laws, risking severe disruption to the regulations that keep our fisheries sustainable, air and water clean, children free of toxins, buildings and factories safe, financial markets stable and more. The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments this coming January two fishery cases, Loper Bright Enterprises v. Raimondo and Relentless v. Dept. of Commerce. The court’s decision on these combined cases will determine the fate of the nearly 40-year-old Chevron doctrine (named after the 1984 Supreme Court case that set the precedent) that guides how federal courts interpret the implementation of certain statutes by government agencies. The Court will reexamine the question of how much deference federal agencies are given when interpreting and applying federal laws under the “Chevron Doctrine,” using cases being brought before the Supreme Court by United States herring fishermen.

This case is going to completely change the way the federal government operates if the Supreme Court decides to change the status quo. Our fishery management system is being used as a ‘Trojan horse’ to challenge our entire system of government.

Meredith Moore

Meredith Moore

Director, Fish Conservation, Ocean Conservancy

Ocean Conservancy Director of Fish Conservation Meredith Moore spoke with ABC News about the case:

The Case

Fishermen are being asked to help share the costs of independent observers on board fishing vessels. These observers collect important data to ensure our fisheries are managed to avoid overfishing. This is a key part of our sustainable management system, widely regarded as one of the best in the world. The Supreme Court did not take up claims related to the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act or the observer requirement directly. Instead, the court will be answering the question of whether government agencies should receive judicial deference when the language of a statute isn’t completely clear. Ocean Conservancy has joined with conservation partners and filed an amicus curiae, or “friend of the court” brief in the case. An amicus is someone who is not party to a lawsuit but who petitions the court to file a brief in the action because they have a strong interest or expertise in the subject matter. Participating in this seminal case as an amicus furthers Ocean Conservancy’s goals for a healthier ocean protected by a more just world.

What’s at Stake?

The consequences of this case will be serious for fishery management, but also more broadly for critical environmental and social programs. This is part of a broader effort to weaken the role of science and expertise in the way our government operates. It’s a normal and accepted cost of doing business for industries to bear the cost of complying with regulations.

Our federal agencies need to be able to implement laws based on their expertise. This is important for fisheries, but it’s also critical as we take on the huge challenges of climate change.

Overturning Chevron deference will empower the courts, the branch of government least accountable to the people, to make sweeping decisions with significant consequences for people and the environment. Instead of scientists and experts making decisions on how to interpret the laws as set by Congress, federal judges will make the call. These judges will likely have no expertise in things like fishery management, or issues like how much exposure to chemicals is safe for children.

For the sake of our planet and our health, we need the Supreme Court to keep the Chevron Doctrine in place.

The Fishery Management System

Atlantic herring are among the nearly 500 fish stocks that are actively managed as public resources in the United States. That management system depends on experts to determine what is needed to keep our fisheries sustainable for the long-term. Fishery observers and at-sea monitors are the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries’ eyes and ears on the water. These observers are professionally trained biological technicians who gather first-hand data on what’s caught and discarded by U.S. commercial fishing vessels. The high quality data observers collect are used to monitor federal fisheries, assess fish populations, set fishing quotas and make sure our fish and fishermen have a future.

Requiring the fishing industry to cover some or all of the cost of observers is not new or unique to this situation. In reality, industry-funded observer programs were created as early as 1990 and managers have continued to create these programs under the Magnuson-Stevens Act in the more than 30 years since.

Our federal agencies need to be able to adapt the implementation of laws to respond to new challenges. This is important for fisheries, but it’s also critical as we take on the huge challenges of climate change.

Meredith Moore

Meredith Moore

Director, Fish Conservation, Ocean Conservancy

Many fisheries still struggle to avoid overfishing, which threatens resources that belong to all of us and the livelihoods of those who rely on them. Everyone (including fishermen) relies on monitoring data to prevent overfishing, preserve fishing economies and keep marine ecosystems intact.

The New England Fishery Management Council’s observer program for the herring fishery follows the course set by regional fishery management councils over decades. The herring fishery has collapsed before and is now in a delicate state. The Atlantic herring stock crashed again in 2018, it is currently overfished, and fishing for them also results in incidental catch of haddock, river herring and shad. Reliable data collected by on-board observers is essential for effective fishery management and ensuring that this stock of fish can be rebuilt to sustainable levels. All ocean users—including fishermen—benefit when fishery managers have access to reliable observer data.

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