The judge specifically referenced the 2012 instance when NMFS refused to consider the offer of a fishing industry-supplied survey vessel to check the survey data collected by the government’s new survey vessel, the Bigelow, that served as the basis for the 2013 cuts.
Fishermen and fishing advocates believed that data to be highly flawed and offered to perform a side-by-side trawl with the Bigelow as a method of corroborating or countering the government data.
“The issue boils down to this: whether NMFS’ refusal to deploy an additional, fishing industry-supplied survey vessel as a check on the accuracy of the Bigelow amounted to a failure to resort to the “best scientific information available” in formulating the groundfish stock assessments,” Stearns wrote in his opinion. “Despite NMFS’ rejection of a side-by-side trawling, prior to undertaking the 2012 assessment, NOAA conducted extensive calibration experiments to detect any survey disparities between the results achieved by the Bigelow and [its predecessor] Albatross.”
While Stearns said the side-by-side trawl was “a proven methodology that NMFS could have deployed,” he added that NMFS was under no “affirmative obligation” to collect new data.
“Because the imperative imposed on the agency by Congress is one of urgent action, and not the achievement of fishery science perfection, the agency may — indeed must — act in times of perceived emergency on ‘incomplete or imperfect data’,” Stearns wrote. “Here, there is no record (of) evidence that more accurate stock assessments were obtained and ignored, nor any compelling evidence that the dismaying assessment results were the product of flawed data collection rather than an accurate science-based portrait of groundfish stocks in a state of imminent collapse.”
Rothschild said Stearns ruling also failed appropriately grasp that the plaintiffs clearly showed contrary evidence that called NOAA scientific method and results into question.