Judge: NMFS must rewrite anchovy catch rule

Federal fishing regulators have until April 16 to rewrite a rule that sets annual catch limits (ACL) for commercial fishing of anchovy in federal waters off the northern coast of California, a judge has ruled.

The Jan. 18 order from federal judge Lucy Koh enforces a judgment in a lawsuit brought in 2016 by the environmental activist group Oceana against the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS).

Oceana's lawsuit questioned the science that NMFS relied on in reaching a 2016 decision to set the ACL for northern California anchovy at 25,000 metric tons. The agency set that limit -- even though landings typically only total less than a third of that, 7,300t -- judging the stock's maximum sustainable yield to be 123,000t, and calculating an acceptable biological catch of 100,000t. The ACL was set, conservatively, the agency said, at a fourth of that level.

However, after the 2016 rule was adopted, Oceana sued NMFS in federal court arguing that the rule violated principles established in the Magnuson-Stevens Act and another law, the Administrative Practices Act, because the agency failed "to articulate the scientific basis for this catch limit".

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