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Fishermen and Environmental Leaders File Brief in Gulf of Mexico Case

Electronic Logbook Program Supports Industry and Conservation Goals

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Charter Fisherman’s Association, Destin Charter Boat Association, Galveston Professional Boatman’s Association, Alabama Charter Fishing Association, Florida Guides Association, Environmental Defense Fund and Ocean Conservancy filed an amicus curiae brief in the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in support of the electronic logbook, or ELB, program in the Gulf of Mexico. 

Contrary to the plaintiff-appellants’ arguments, a large portion of the charter for-hire industry supports the ELB program, and the program has important conservation benefits, including reducing management uncertainty and improving accountability, which could lead to important economic benefits such as longer fishing seasons.  

“Charter Fisherman’s Association is the largest charter group in the Gulf with over 300 members. We support all components of the ELB program and have been working on these improvements for over a decade,” said Capt. Jim Green, president of the Charter Fisherman’s Association. “The landings that we report will be used to better predict our season lengths and inform stock assessments. It will give us a chance to help stabilize inconsistent season lengths to make our business models more predictable for our anglers.”

The Gulf ELB requirements are officially part of the Southeast For-Hire Integrated Electronic Reporting program, which includes both South Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico program components with regionally distinct requirements. The Gulf ELB program was unanimously approved by the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council in 2017. Its recent implementation represents nearly two decades of industry-led effort to improve data collection in the Reef Fish and Coastal Migratory Pelagics For-Hire fisheries. In the Gulf of Mexico, fishermen who provide charter fishing opportunities in U.S. federal waters report details about their catch and fishing activity for every trip and also provide location information to validate the data. 

“I fully support the Gulf’s ELB program, which will not only improve data collection but will also allow our fleets to move toward a census-based and validated data collection system,” said Dylan Hubbard, president of the Florida Guides Association and owner of Hubbard’s Marina. “We want to be accountable and sustainable and to provide the most access possible to the non-boat-owning private recreational fisherman through well-documented, validated and timely reported directed fishing trips.”

Before the ELB program, charter for-hire data has been collected by telephone surveys, mail-in surveys or paper logbooks, which can result in less accurate catch estimates with long lag times. By contrast, the new ELB program supplies accurate and timely data to the National Marine Fisheries Service, or NMFS, which is tasked with federal fishery management. 

“The Gulf ELB program will deliver better data. Better data means better fisheries management, which ultimately translates into more fish in the water, more food on the plate and better outcomes for fishermen, including access for recreational anglers and charter businesses,” said Eric Schwaab, senior vice president for People and Nature at Environmental Defense Fund. “These data can also help assess industry and sector value in recovery situations, including hurricanes.”

In 2020, a small number of charter for-hire permit holders represented by the New Civil Liberties Alliance filed a lawsuit against NMFS challenging the ELB program, claiming it violates the Magnuson-Stevens Act, the Fourth, Fifth and Ninth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, and the Administrative Procedure Act. The lawsuit took issue with two aspects of the ELB program: collecting certain socio-economic data and requiring that charter for-hire vessels use vessel monitoring systems to report their locations to NMFS. The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana rejected the plaintiffs’ arguments in February, finding that the agency followed all proper rulemaking procedures and analysis requirements and that the substance of the ELB program does not violate the Constitution or exceed the authority delegated to the agency by U.S. Congress. 

The brief shows the court that not only is the ELB program permissible by law but also advances conservation and fulfills the goals of our federal marine fishery law, the Magnuson-Stevens Act. Furthermore, the appellants who oppose the program do not represent the majority of the fleet who have advocated for the program for years and have welcomed its implementation to improve the long-term sustainability of their businesses and to properly manage the public resource.  

“The Gulf ELB program is a great example of a fishing industry-led data modernization effort that will meet the needs of today and help us ensure that fisheries are sustainably managed and able to support both a thriving fishing industry and healthy ocean,” said Meredith Moore, director of Fish Conservation at Ocean Conservancy. “The U.S. fishery management system is one of the most advanced in the world, but its continued success relies on high quality data to inform sustainable management decisions. The ELB program provides a long overdue upgrade.”

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The Charter Fisherman’s Association is the largest charter organization in the Gulf of Mexico and it is our mission to ensure American public access to fishing, to engage and represent the Charter for Hire industry, and to ensure long-term sustainability of our fisheries. (https://joincfa.org/

The Florida Guides Association is a statewide organization of Professional Fishing Guides, Corporate Affiliates, and Associate Affiliates who have been working together since 1991, toward the goal of “Better fishing through conservation”. (http://florida-guides.com/)

One of the world’s leading international nonprofit organizations, Environmental Defense Fund (edf.org) creates transformational solutions to the most serious environmental problems. To do so, EDF links science, economics, law, and innovative private-sector partnerships. With more than 2.5 million members and offices in the United States, China, Mexico, Indonesia and the European Union, EDF’s scientists, economists, attorneys and policy experts are working in 28 countries to turn our solutions into action. Connect with us on Twitter @EnvDefenseFund  

Ocean Conservancy is working to protect the ocean from today’s greatest global challenges. Together with our partners, we create evidence-based solutions for a healthy ocean and the wildlife and communities that depend on it. For more information, visit oceanconservancy.org, or follow us on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.

 

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