July 11, 2014

PLF opposes fishy federal prosecution

By Mark Miller Senior Attorney
With PLF's help, the sun should set on a fishy federal government prosecution.
With PLF’s help, the sun should set on a fishy federal prosecution.

This week, Pacific Legal Foundation filed a friend of the court brief at the Supreme Court of the United States on behalf of a Florida fisherman named John Yates.  Mr. Yates, a grandfather and commercial fishing boat captain for hire, found himself reeled in by a federal government in an overzealous prosecution.  The government took the position that commercial fishermen, who already face overwhelming federal and state civil regulations on the size, amount, and types of fish they catch, should also face the risk of decades in prison, as well.

To accomplish that dubious goal, the federal government charged Mr. Yates with violating the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, a law Congress passed in response to the Enron corporate debacle more than a decade ago. Congress intended for the law to allow “for criminal prosecution of persons who alter or destroy evidence in certain federal investigations or defraud investors of publicly-traded securities.” Here, the federal government decided this law applied to a fisherman who caught three red grouper that were undersized and then may have thrown them overboard after receiving a citation for catching undersized fish. This law carries the risk of twenty years of imprisonment.

Pacific Legal Foundation filed its amicus brief objecting to this prosecution on behalf of six different commercial fishing organizations from across the country.  The Florida Keys Commercial Fishermen’s Association, Southeastern Fisheries Association, Garden State Seafood Association, Commercial Fishermen of Santa Barbara, California Abalone Association, and California Sea Urchin Commission all stood up on behalf of Mr. Yates and told the federal government that commercial fishermen should not face the risk of big government prosecution gone amok. Instead, the federal government should interpret its laws to apply as the laws are written, and not so as to ratchet up the pressure on a defendant to plea guilty to crimes that do not apply to his conduct because he fears decades in prison if he goes to trial and loses.

PLF expects the Court to hear oral argument on this case in October.

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California Sea Urchin Commission v. Jacobson

A federal statute requires the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to exempt lawful fishing activities from the broad prohibitions against the incidental taking of sea otters. This compromise between the Service’s desire to establish a new sea otter population and the fishing industry reflects Congress’s recognition that introducing sea otters into Southern California waters could severely impair the health and sustainability of local fisheries, threatening the livelihood of those who depend on them. The Service ignored this Congressional balancing of interests and PLF sued on behalf of sea urchin and abalone divers, lobster trappers, and other fishermen whose livelihoods are threatened by Service’s unilateral termination of protection for lawful fishing activities.

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