Friday, July 19, 2024

Ocean Advocacy Groups Slam US Supreme Court’s Chevron Decision


Ocean advocacy organizations are strongly criticizing the US Supreme Court for overturning the “Chevron doctrine,” under which federal courts would defer to an agency’s interpretation of ambiguous legal terms when Congress has given that agency authority to implement the law.

In its 6-3 decision along party lines, the court vacated and remanded a lower court’s decision that upheld a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and National Marine Fisheries Service rule requiring fishing companies to pay for at-sea government monitors on their fishing boats.

That longstanding “Chevron” administrative law principle held that when a law is vague, a federal court should “defer” to a federal agency’s interpretation of the law, as long as it is reasonable. The Court rejected its earlier precedent, allowing judges to substitute their own views when reviewing actions by the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of the Interior and other agencies.

Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts wrote:

“Chevron was a judicial invention that required judges to disregard their statutory duties. And the only way to ‘ensure that the law will not merely change erratically, but will develop in a principled and intelligible fashion,’ is for us to leave Chevron behind.”

Ocean advocacy groups vehemently disagreed with the court’s decision.


Oceana’s Vice President for US Oceans Beth Lowell called the case “a fundamental attack by some in the fishing industry on responsible fisheries management in the United States.”

“Fishery observers are our eyes on the water to uphold healthy fisheries, without them we are operating in the darkness,” she said. “Some fishers want to operate in the dark, unmonitored, and return to a wild west of fishing in U.S. waters, but these companies are fishing on a public resource and making profits from the fish they are taking from OUR oceans. Without monitoring, limits become irrelevant, and rules become suggestions. Observers help prevent overfishing and rebuild fisheries, and now that may be at stake.

“Our justice system at the highest level failed our oceans and the American people today. This decision shows that politically appointed judges could be making the final call instead of experts in government agencies. This puts at risk government decisions not just on fisheries, but also on clean water, clean air, public health, food safety, and protecting wildlife.”

Ocean Conservancy

Meredith Moore, Director of the Ocean Conservancy’s Fish Conservation Program, said:

“Today, the Supreme Court clearly showed that this case was never just about fish. Instead, New England’s Atlantic herring fishery was used as a Trojan Horse to attack the foundations of the public agencies that serve the American public and conserve our natural resources. The protections that keep our air and water clean, our homes and workplaces safe, and our communities, our children and ourselves healthy rely on the knowledge and experience of scientists and experts, and all that is now at risk.

“Decades ago, American fisheries were on the brink of collapse, and what made recovery possible – what kept fishing communities in business and seafood on American dining room tables – was strong science-based management decisions rooted in data. This case jeopardizes our access to critical information about America’s fisheries, which is the exact opposite of what we need to handle the fast-growing impacts of climate change.

“The Supreme Court’s decision opens the floodgates to litigation that will erode critical protections for people and the environment.”


David Doniger, a senior attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said:

“This is a profound change, and a terrible one. It’s part of this Court’s broad, concerted effort to make it harder for our government to function.

“Whether they’re making food safer, air cleaner or safeguarding prescription drugs, agencies need to be able to respond to complex problems the modern world throws at us. This decision is profoundly destabilizing and leaves policy – and public health – up to the individual preferences and political biases of unaccountable judges.”


Earthjustice Senior Vice President for Programs Sambhav Sankar said:

“The Supreme Court is pushing the nation into uncharted waters as it seizes power from our elected branches of government to advance its deregulatory agenda.

“The conservative justices are aggressively reshaping the foundations of our government so that the President and Congress have less power to protect the public, and corporations have more power to challenge regulations in search of profits. This ruling threatens the legitimacy of hundreds of regulations that keep us safe, protect our homes and environment, and create a level playing field for businesses to compete on.”


Conservation Law Foundation President Brad Campbell said:

“Most Americans are not focused on the connection between the arcane Chevron doctrine and the ability of Congress and expert agencies to stop unlawful fishing, toxic pollution, or other threats to their safety and the environment.

“But they do see the new Supreme Court majority’s relentless steps – including today’s decision – to sacrifice their health and future at the altar of an extreme ideological agenda. As the Supreme Court enlarges its power and creates chaos in our legal system, state governments have an even greater obligation to provide the safeguards and standards that the Court is so eager to obstruct.”

John Liang
John Liang
John Liang is the News Editor at He first got the diving bug while in High School in Cairo, Egypt, where he earned his PADI Open Water Diver certification in the Red Sea off the Sinai Peninsula. Since then, John has dived in a volcanic lake in Guatemala, among white-tipped sharks off the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica, and other places including a pool in Las Vegas helping to break the world record for the largest underwater press conference.