Hawaii Longline Association v. National Marine Fisheries Service, Civ. No. 01-0765 (CKK) (D. D.C. 2003)

Decision Date01 August 2003
Docket NumberCiv. No. 01-0765 (CKK)
PartiesHAWAII LONGLINE ASSOCIATION, Plaintiff, v. NATIONAL MARINE FISHERIES SERVICE, and DONALD L. EVANS, In his official capacity as Secretary, United States Department of Commerce Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — District of Columbia


This is the second time that the Court has been presented with cross-motions for summary judgment during the unusual procedural history of this APA litigation. Plaintiff Hawaii Longline Association's ("HLA's")1 Second Amended Complaint seeks to set aside regulations and a biological opinion issued by Defendants National Marine Fisheries Service ("NMFS") and Secretary Donald L. Evans affecting the Fishery Management Plan for the Western Pacific Region. Specifically, HLA has moved for summary judgment regarding its second claim for relief, which challenges a rule promulgated on June 12, 2002, 67 Fed. Reg. 40,232 (June 12, 2002) ("June 2002 Regulations"). It has also requested judgment in its favor regarding its third claim for relief, which contests a Biological Opinion issued on November 15, 2002 ("2002 BiOp"). After due consideration of the parties' motions, their oppositions, and their replies, the Court shall grant Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment regarding its second and third claims for relief and deny Defendants' Cross-Motions. With no material facts in dispute, the Court has determined that the June 2002 Regulations and the 2002 BiOp are arbitrary, capricious, and contrary to law and, therefore, shall be vacated and remanded to NMFS as a matter of law.


The issues in this case arise at the cross section of two discrete federal statutes, the Magnuson-Stevens Act, 16 U.S.C. § 1801 et seq., and the Endangered Species Act, 16 U.S.C. § 1531 et seq. Therefore, it is necessary to briefly consider the authority NMFS derives from each statute before reviewing the events leading up to the present motions before the Court. After reviewing the statutory framework under which NMFS operates, the Court will then sketch out the events that have transpired in this complicated administrative law case.

(A) Statutory Framework

(1) The Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act

Fisheries under the jurisdiction of the United States are regulated by the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act ("Magnuson-Stevens Act"), 16 U.S.C. § 1801 et seq. Among its various provisions, the Magnuson-Stevens Act established eight regional councils comprised of "individuals who, by reason of their occupational or other experience, scientific expertise, or training, are knowledgeable regarding conservation and management, or the commercial or recreational harvest, of the fishery resources of the geographical area concerned." 16 U.S.C. § 1852(a)(2)(A). In order to ensure a balanced cross-section of interested parties on each council, the Act requires the Secretary of Commerce2 — and, ultimately NMFS — to abide by certain appointment and reporting requirements. 16 U.S.C. § 1852(a)(2)(B). Each council is vested with the authority to issue regulations for the conservation and management of the fisheries in its geographic region, including comprehensive Fishery Management Plans ("FMPs"). 16 U.S.C. § 1853(a), (c). The proposals of the regional councils are subject to review by NMFS, which must examine each submission to ensure that it is consistent with the requirements under the Act. See 16 U.S.C. § 1854(a), (b). These substantive requirements demand that an FMP be "necessary and appropriate for the conservation and management of the fishery," 16 U.S.C. § 1853(a)(1)(A), be consistent with national standards set out in the Act, 16 U.S.C. § 1853(a)(1)(C), and abide by "any other applicable law," id., including the Endangered Species Act.

In certain situations, NMFS may prepare an FMP without the input of the appropriate regional council via a "Secretarial amendment." However, the statute limits such situations, granting such authority only where:

(A) the appropriate Council fails to develop and submit to the Secretary, after a reasonable period of time, a fishery management plan for such fishery, or any necessary amendment to such a plan, if such fishery requires conservation and management;

(B) the Secretary disapproves or partially disapproves any such plan or amendment, or disapproves a revised plan or amendment, and the Council involved fails to submit a revised or further revised plan or amendment; or

(C) the Secretary is given authority to prepare such a plan under this section.

16 U.S.C. § 1854(c)(1). In addition, NMFS may promulgate emergency regulations or interim measures (through the Secretary) in the event that "an emergency exists or [where] interim measures are necessary to reduce overfishing for any industry." 16 U.S.C. § 1855(c)(1). Regulations promulgated by NMFS (through the Secretary) pursuant to its emergency powers are limited in duration and may not exceed 180 days, but may be extended for an additional 180-day period, subject to the requirements of the Act. 16 U.S.C. § 1855(c)(3)(B).

The fisheries based in Hawaii, American Samoa, Guam, and the Northern Mariana Islands fall under the authority of the Western Pacific Fishery Management Council ("West Pac" or "the Council"). 16 U.S.C. § 1852(a)(1)(H). As a result, under the Magnuson-Stevens Act, West Pac is responsible for issuing various FMPs, including the Pelagics (Open Ocean) FMP central to the dispute in the present case.

(2) The Endangered Species Act

The Endangered Species Act ("ESA"), 16 U.S.C. § 1531 et seq., establishes a comprehensive federal program to limit the number of fish, wildlife, and plant species rendered extinct as a consequence of their interactions with mankind. Under the ESA, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service ("FWS") and NMFS3 (collectively, "the Services") are required to promulgate regulations listing those species that are "threatened" or "endangered" based on enumerated criteria and to "designate any habitat of such species which is then considered to be critical habitat." 16 U.S.C. § 1533. The ESA further requires that each federal agency, in consultation with the Services, "insure that any action authorized, funded, or carried out by such agency . . . is not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of any endangered species or threatened species or result in the destruction or adverse modification of habitat of such species which is determined by [the Services]. . . to be critical." 16 U.S.C. § 1536(a)(1). Under the ESA and its implementing regulations, a federal agency must engage in formal consultation with the Services if an action undertaken by that agency "may affect" an endangered or threatened species or its critical habitat. 50 C.F.R. § 402.14(a).

In the event that formal consultation is required, the appropriate consulting Service (in this case, NMFS)4 will review the proposed agency action by undertaking a Biological Opinion ("BiOp"). 50 C.F.R. § 402.14(g). The BiOp considers and details how the proposed agency action affects any listed species or its critical habitat. In making this inquiry, the Service must comport with the statute's "best science" requirement. 16 U.S.C. § 1536(a)(2); 50 C.F.R. § 402.14(h). This comprehensive review of the agency's action generally leads to one of two possible results: (1) the action either "jeopardizes" or (2) does not jeopardize the listed species. 50 C.F.R. § 402.14(h)(3). When the consulting Service determines that an agency action is likely to jeopardize a protected species, it must provide "reasonable and prudent alternatives" ("RPAs") that would not jeopardize the listed species. 16 U.S.C. § 1536(b)(3)(A); 50 C.F.R. § 402. An RPA represents an alternative means to implement a proposed action, and would accomplish the same general purpose of the proposed action, without jeopardizing the listed species. On the other hand, if the consulting Service reaches a "no jeopardy" conclusion, or if an RPA is available that would avoid jeopardy, the Service issues an Incidental Take Statement. 16 U.S.C. § 1536(b)(4); 50 C.F.R. § 402.14(i). An Incidental Take Statement permits an agency to undertake an action that leads to the "taking" (harassment, injury, or death)5 of a particular number of listed species without violating the ESA's taking prohibitions. 16 U.S.C. § 1536(b)(4); 50 C.F.R. § 402.14(i).

If one of the Services issues an Incidental Take Statement, the agency undertaking the proposed action ("action agency") is required to reinitiate consultations with one of the consulting Services where the action agency retains discretionary involvement over the action or control of the action has been retained or is authorized by a federal statute and:

(a) If the amount or extent of taking specified in the incidental take statement is exceeded;

(b) If new information reveals effects of the action that may affect listed species or critical habitat in a manner or to an extent not previously considered;

(c) If the identified action is subsequently modified in a manner that causes an effect to the listed species or critical habitat that was not considered in the biological opinion; or

(d) If a new species is listed or critical habitat designated that may be affected by the identified action.

50 C.F.R. § 402.16. In the event that an action agency determines that it must reinitiate formal consultations with a consulting Service, that Service will issue a new biological opinion evaluating the proposed agency action.

(3) Dual Responsibilities

In the unique situation presented by this case, NMFS is responsible for authorizing regulations and FMPs proposed by the eight regional councils under the Magnuson-Stevens Act but, at the same time, must evaluate its own actions under the ESA. In other words, NMFS serves as both the action agency and the consulting Service. See, e.g., 2001 BiOp AR-604, at...

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