NCLA appeals 24-hour GPS tracking of charter boats

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WASHINGTON — The New Civil Liberties Alliance has filed an opening brief in its appeal against a National Marine Fisheries Service rule that requires 24-hour GPS tracking of recreational fishing vessels.

The class action lawsuit was filed last week on behalf of more than 1,300 federally licensed charter boat owners who are challenging a final rule issued by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) pursuant to the Magnuson-Stevens Act.

The NCLA argues, among other things, that the district court erred in holding that the Fourth Amendment allows an agency to surveil charter boat operators without a warrant or suspicion of wrongdoing.

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“Anyone who fishes recreationally should be furious that the government asserted the right to monitor your whereabouts at all times because you could be using fish resources,” said John J. Vecchione, senior litigation counsel for the NCLA. “There is no reason to think that this incredible invasion of our customers’ constitutional rights, if tolerated, will not be extended to every sportsman who catches fish in American waters.

“Giving bureaucrats the right to search you at any time in case you fish makes our constitutional protections shaky indeed. We look forward to the Fifth Circuit reversing this flawed ruling,” he added.

On August 20, 2020, NCLA filed a class action lawsuit challenging the final rule as unconstitutional and illegal. The appellants do not dispute the transmission of fish information in electronic fishing reports. Instead, they challenge the GPS tracking mandate and requirements to transmit “other information” not specified in the notice of proposed rulemaking, including business data.

On February 28, the district court denied the boat owners’ motion for summary judgment and denied their request for a stay of the settlement. The GPS tracking requirement came into effect the following day.

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