NRDC v. Pritzker, No. 14-16375 (9th Cir. 2016)Annotate this Case
This appeal concerns the Navy’s peacetime use of Surveillance Towed Array Sensor System Low Frequency Active sonar (LFA sonar). At issue is whether NMFS correctly authorized the incidental take of marine mammals in connection with the Navy’s use of LFA sonar for training, testing, and routine operations. The district court granted summary judgment to defendants on the issue of Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), 16 U.S.C. 1371(a)(5)(A)(i), compliance. The court concluded that NMFS is required to prescribe regulations to achieve the “least practicable adverse impact” before it can authorize incidental take, and NMFS's proposed mitigation measures failed to do so. In this case, NMFS should have considered whether additional mitigation measures were necessary to achieve the least practicable adverse impact on marine mammals, and also whether these mitigation measures would be practicable in light of the Navy’s need for effective military readiness training. While NMFS’s finding that LFA sonar operations will have a “negligible impact” on marine mammal populations is a required element for approval of incidental take, it is not a substitute for an analysis of whether the proposed mitigation measures in the 2012 Final Rule reduce the impact of incidental take on marine mammals to the lowest level practicable. NMFS also did not give adequate protection to areas of the world’s oceans flagged by its own experts as biologically important. Accordingly, the court reversed and remanded for further proceedings.