Maine Lobstermen's Association v. National Marine Fisheries Service, No. 22-5238 (D.C. Cir. 2023)Annotate this Case
The National Marine Fisheries Service licenses fisheries in federal waters. In doing so, the Service must comply with the Endangered Species Act (ESA). That Act requires the Service to prepare an “opinion,” commonly known as a biological opinion, “detailing how the fishery affects” any endangered or threatened species. Using “the best scientific and commercial data available,” the Service’s opinion must determine whether the federal fishery is “not likely” to jeopardize the survival of a protected species. At issue is whether, in a biological opinion, the Service must, or even may, when faced with uncertainty, give the “benefit of the doubt” to an endangered species by relying upon worst-case scenarios or pessimistic assumptions.
The DC Circuit reversed the district court’s grant of summary judgment to the Service and directed the court to enter summary judgment for the lobstermen on count one of their complaints. Because the Service has raised no independent defense to count four of the complaint, the court directed the district court to enter summary judgment for the lobstermen on count four. The court further directed the district court to vacate the biological opinion as applied to the lobster and Jonah crab fisheries and to remand the phase one rule to the Service.