Document Type

Case Note


In 1976, Congress enacted the Magnuson Fishery Management Conservation and Management Act (MFCMA), creating a national program for the conservation and management of U.S. fishery resources. The Act established regional management councils to manage all fisheries located in waters beyond the states' marine boundaries. Under the MFCMA, state authority in federal waters is limited to the regulation of state-registered vessels. Since the passage of the Magnuson Act, several states have attempted to exercise this authority and regulate fishing activity outside of their territorial waters. These attempts have raised fundamental questions concerning the limits of permissible state authority under the Magnuson Act. In its decision in Vietnamese Fishermen Ass'n of America v. California Department of Fish & Game, the United States District Court for the Northern District of California joined a line of decisions narrowly interpreting the extent of state authority over fisheries in federal waters. The court held that extra-territorial enforcement of a California ban on gillnetting for rockfish was preempted by federal groundfish regulations allowing such gillnetting in those waters. This casenote will argue that there are two problems with the decision. The first problem lies in the court's reduction of the role of state fisheries management by finding an actual conflict by implication at a time when all management agencies should be working together to protect fish stocks. The second problem arises from the decision of the court to give deference to an unappealable consistency determination by a body containing inherent conflicts of interest. These problems reflect the court's failure to properly balance its analysis under the Supremacy Clause with fundamental concerns stemming from the concepts of federalism and due process. As a result, the court unjustifiably prevented a state from protecting a fishery in which it had a legitimate interest.



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