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Humane Society of the United States v. Brown

1996

In addition to banning large-scale pelagic driftnets by U.S. vessels and nationals, the Driftnet Act established a mechanism to deter the use of driftnets by foreign vessels in international waters. Under this mechanism, the U.S. Secretary of Commerce is to identify nations whose vessels have engaged in large-scale driftnet fishing in waters beyond any nation’s jurisdiction (i.e., international waters). The vessels of an identified nation are then denied port privileges in the U.S. and, depending on the outcome of bilateral consultation, the U.S. may further ban imports of fish and other products. In this case, the Humane Society sued the Secretary of Commerce and other government officials, alleging that they had shirked their duties under the Driftnet Act. Specifically, the Humane Society alleged that the government agency unjustifiably failed to identify Italy as a nation whose vessels engaged in driftnet fishing in international waters. The Court ruled that the undisputed facts established a non-discretionary duty to identify Italy.