Judge rejects Bering Sea seafood companies’ request to block penalties for alleged violations of federal shipping law

Two crew men shovel a deck full of fish on board a large boat
Crew members shovel pollock on the deck of a fishing vessel after a harvest on the Bering Sea in 2019. (Nat Herz / Alaska Public Media)

A federal judge has denied, for now, a request by some of the largest Bering Sea seafood companies to block the Biden administration from levying additional fines on them for alleged violations of federal shipping laws.

U.S. District Court Judge Sharon Gleason issued her 25-page decision Tuesday rejecting the request by a subsidiary of Bering Sea pollock harvesting giant American Seafoods, and a related company, Kloosterboer.

The seafood companies had turned to an array of lawyers to make their case, including former President Donald Trump’s personal attorney, Marc Kasowitz. They said U.S. Customs and Border Protection had threatened them and other businesses in their supply chain with penalties exceeding $300 million.

Related: A new $350 million Bering Sea fish fight could hinge on a miniature Canadian railroad

The penalties were for using a miniature Canadian railway to satisfy a provision in a federal law called the Jones Act. It allows goods to be shipped between American ports on foreign-flagged vessels only if their route includes Canadian rail lines.

Gleason, in her ruling Tuesday, denied the companies’ request for a temporary restraining order and a preliminary injunction.

She said the companies had met one legal standard required for her to issue the injunction, by raising valid questions about whether the penalties are causing irreparable harm to the seafood companies’ business.

But she added that the businesses have not shown that they’re in compliance with the federal shipping law, nor have they pursued all of their options to appeal to CBP directly.

Gleason dismissed the request without prejudice, which means the companies can resurrect it if they appeal to CBP and fail.

Kloosterboer and Alaska Reefer Management, in a prepared statement, called Gleason’s decision “mixed” and said the ruling invited them to renew their request after taking the procedural steps the judge suggested.

“As a result of this outcome, which in large part is positive, we will not be able to resume trucking goods as fast as we had hoped,” the statement quoted Per Brautaset, ARM’s president, as saying. “However, we are encouraged and will continue to pursue the available legal and administrative options to resolve this issue.”

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