Charter captains fight new NOAA GPS rule in court

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A group of charter fishermen and boat owners are moving forward with a class action lawsuit that challenges a new federal rule called the “Rental Electronic Reporting Amendment” which requires the installation of GPS tracking systems on their boats as well as the submission of weekly locate reports to the government. John J. Vecchione, senior legal counsel for the New Civil Liberties Alliance (NCLA), which organized the lawsuit, calls the tracking systems the equivalent of marine ankle bracelets – or “anchor bracelets.”

The lawsuit was filed in US District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana. The contested rule was published in January 2021 by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the US Department of Commerce, and the National Marine Fisheries Services. According to the published rule, the “equipment location tracking part must be installed by a certified installer, permanently attached to the vessel and turned on at all times, unless a power-off exemption is granted” . Masters must submit mandatory weekly electronic fishing reports to NOAA.

The prosecution argues that the new reports required go far beyond simple capture reports. Several captains have publicly stated that they are intrusive and demand proprietary business information such as “economic data” which includes travel costs, approximate fuel used, as well as the number of passengers and crew on board. NOAA responds that the economic information will help improve analyzes of actions proposed by the Gulf of Mexico Fisheries Management Board. The agency adds that it will use the location and fishing reports to “improve the data available for the management and assessment of stocks … federal waters.”

Captain Allen Walburn, owner of A&B Charters, told the Daily News from Naples that charter captains like to keep their fishing holes a secret. He expressed concern that continued federal government surveillance could potentially expose these points. Walburn recently said in a YouTube video: “I don’t know of anyone else in our country who is required to have a monitoring device attached to their personal equipment 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and has to notify the federal government. their use of the equipment and the intention to use the equipment. We are unhappy with this because Big Brother is interfering in our business, essentially putting an ankle bracelet on all rental boat operators in the Gulf of Mexico.

The NCLA lawsuit maintains warrantless access to GPS information of a person’s locations and movements is “patently unconstitutional,” adding that “it amounts to an unreasonable search violating the Fourth Amendment and violating the rights of the Ninth Amendment , including the right to privacy, freedom of movement, free enterprise, freedom from unreasonable government interference and the right to travel. Since the plaintiffs are the sole owners of the data produced by their newly purchased devices, their seizure without any cause also violates the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment.

In an August 2021 summary judgment motion, plaintiffs also noted that the NOAA rule stated that currently approved vessel monitoring systems cost up to $ 3,000 per unit with monthly service charges ranging from about $ 40 to $ 75. Some captains were hoping prices would drop, but that hasn’t happened yet.

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