SW Legal studies in Business

State Control of Lobster Fishing Does Not Violate State Constitutional Rights

Federal appeals court held that federal courts have jurisdiction over a challenge to state lobster fishing controls since the matter is subject to federal oversight. State limits on lobster traps do not violate equal protection of the law or the right of equal access guaranteed by the Rhode Island constitution.

Topic Environmental Law
Key Words

Fishing Controls; Lobster Traps; State Regulation; Federal Regulation

C A S E   S U M M A R Y

In 1942, Congress approved the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Compact, an interstate agreement among 15 states, including Rhode Island. In 1993, Congress made state compliance with fishery management plans compulsory. Specie-specific management boards, such as the American Lobster Management Board, develop control plans. The plans are implemented by state laws and regulations. States that do not comply may be subject to punishment by the Secretary of Commerce, who can ban fishing of that specie off the coast of that state. One plan concerns lobster fishing off Massachusetts and Rhode Island. Catch is based on lobster trap allocations to fishermen based on their catch during 2001-03. In 2007, lobstermen sued for a declaratory judgment against the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM), contending that the regulation violated the Rhode Island constitution. The DEM moved the case to federal court. The lobstermen contended this was improper since the issue in the case was state law, not federal law. The federal district court held that there was a federal question involved, so it had jurisdiction. The lobstermen appealed.


Affirmed. Federal courts have jurisdiction over this issue because there is a federal issue embedded in it. Congress passed the law that the Rhode Island regulation is based upon and the federal government has enforcement authority regarding the law, so while the particular issue is the Rhode Island constitution, there is a federal question in this matter. The regulation issued by the Rhode Island DEM restricting lobster-trap allocations does not violate a fundamental constitutional right of equal access to fisheries or equal protection of the law, as guaranteed by the Rhode Island constitution. The rules were properly implemented as part of the Compact scheme to help protect species.

Citation Rhode Island Fishermen’s Alliance v. Rhode Island Dept. of Enviro. Mgmt., ---F.3d--- (2009 WL 3401919, 1st Cir., 2009)

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