Road Worrier Blog

Federal judge dismisses sea-turtle lawsuit filed by NC fishing groups

A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed by North Carolina commercial fishing groups who contended that environmental regulators should make recreational anglers comply with laws that protect endangered sea turtles.

Chief Judge James C. Dever III of North Carolina’s Eastern District Court ruled on July 22 that the N.C. Fisheries Association and the Carteret County Fisherman’s Association did not have legal grounds to sue state and federal agencies because they could not show that their members had suffered economic or environmental harm.

Dever’s decision was lauded by a Raleigh-based nonprofit that promotes recreational fishing.

“All fishing would have ceased – for anybody using a fishing rod, a cast net or a frog gig, from a pier, from a boat, from shore,” said Todd Shamel, assistant director of the Coastal Conservation Association. A spokesman for the N.C. Fisheries Association could not immediately be reached for comment.

In their lawsuit last year, the two commercial groups argued that recreational hook-and-line anglers are responsible for a large share of injuries to rare sea turtles that enjoy protections under the Endangered Species Act. But they said environmental agencies enforce turtle restrictions only against commercial fishermen. They wanted state and federal agencies to make recreational anglers get permits and file reports on any sea turtles they killed, caught or injured.

Jerry Schill, president of the N.C. Fisheries Association, said by email that he was disappointed by Dever’s decision to dismiss the lawsuit.

“Aside from the turtle issue, those who might applaud his decision should actually read it and ask, if the plaintiffs in this case don't have standing to sue over the Endangered Species Act, who does?” Schill said.

Dever said no evidence had been offered to show that commercial fishing businesses would benefit if regulations on other anglers were increased.

Bruce Siceloff: 919-829-4527, @Road_Worrier