Court: Feds can require tracking of charter fishing boats

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A federal judge on Monday rejected a lawsuit filed by Gulf of Mexico charter fishing boat operators opposed to federal regulations that include a requirement that they affix tracking equipment to their vessels.

U.S. District Judge Susie Morgan ruled Monday in favor of the National Marine Fisheries Service. The devices will help make sure logbooks are correct and that data on catches are accurately reported, the agency said in court records.

Morgan rejected the boat operators’ arguments that permanent tracking amounts to a violation of Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable searches and seizures. The suit was filed in 2020 by a group of charter operators from Louisiana and Florida. Morgan granted class-action status last year, meaning hundreds of others would have been covered by a favorable ruling.

But, on Monday, Morgan said in an 80-page ruling that the fisheries service has had tracking requirements in place for decades for the commercial fishing industry. She said the tracking equipment for charter vessels for private fishers is similar to that used for commercial fishing operations, that the information collected is limited in scope and that it is gathered at regular intervals — not like an unannounced search.

“The longstanding practice of tracking in the fishing industry reinforces the Court’s determination that the tracking requirement sufficiently provides notice and limits discretion to contain an adequate substitute for a warrant,” she wrote.