NCLA ‘Anchor Bracelet’ Lawsuit Granted Class-Action Status

Washington, DC, June 11, 2021 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) – The New Civil Liberties Alliance, a non-partisan, nonprofit civil liberties group, defends the rights of more than 1,000 charter ship operators in the Gulf of Mexico. In a class action lawsuit against the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the NCLA opposes the unconstitutional and unprincipled surveillance of boat operations. The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana this week granted the NCLA’s application for class certification and accepted an amended complaint from the Mexican Gulf Fishing Company et al. v. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, et al. The ruling ensures that all members of the group benefit from the rulings of the court on these data protection issues.

In July 2020, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), and the US Department of Commerce published a definitive rule requiring Gulf for-hire ship owners to submit electronic fisheries reports “using NMFS-approved hardware and software Plaintiffs, charter boat captains, and companies fishing and sightseeing off the coasts of Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas say the rule oversees the regulatory equivalent of an “ankle bracelet” (or anchor bracelet!) constantly her business and her private life. It stipulates that captains of charter boats pay for a ship surveillance system (VMS) and “permanently attach” and enable the tracking device to pass on and save information at any time. Every captain must contact NMFS every time the ship leaves port – even if it is only crossing the bay for dinner.

The final rule imposes technology and reporting requirements on small businesses, and offers virtually no advantage in monitoring fish stocks in the Gulf of Mexico over cheaper, less intrusive methods. There is no evidence whatsoever that written logs and weekly reports of fish reports countersigned by charter boat customers are insufficient for government purposes. In addition, the VMS unit gives the NMFS knowledge of the whereabouts of ships 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, forcing captains to divulge sensitive proprietary information, including key fishing locations that captains have received for decades.

Forced use of VMS “anchor bracelets” violates plaintiffs’ constitutional right to privacy by submitting and archiving locations when the vessels are used for both rental fishing and purely private and unregulated purposes. As the amended complaint clarifies, the NCLA also questions aspects of NOAA’s final rule that require captains “charter fees, fuel prices, amount of fuel used, number of passengers paying, number of crew, [and] similar economic information. ”None of this proprietary business information is used by NOAA or NMFS to track fish stocks and is unlawfully collected. The fourth amendment protects a person’s property rights by prohibiting the government from trespassing on a probable cause without a warrant. In addition, the Final Rule violates the freedom of movement of the plaintiffs under the Ninth Amendment. In the face of these violations, Plaintiffs are seeking permanent injunctive relief to repeal the Final Rule.

The NCLA published the following statements:

“The ruling of the court is to be welcomed and enables all charter boat operators in the Gulf to benefit from the rulings of the court on this matter without having to join hundreds of victims. The government denied this request, but the court’s decision makes a lot of sense given the far-reaching requirements for charter boats created by the final rule. “
– John Vecchione, Senior Litigation Counsel, NCLA

“The authorization-free GPS monitoring of even a suspected criminal’s vehicle is undeniably unconstitutional. However, NOAA mandates 24-hour GPS monitoring of countless boat owners in order to conduct legitimate business. It doesn’t take a legal scholar to recognize the violation of the constitution. “
– Sheng Li, litigator, NCLA

Please see the case page here for more information.


NCLA is a non-partisan, non-profit civil rights group founded by the well-known legal scholar Philip Hamburger to protect constitutional freedoms from violations by the administrative state. The NCLA’s public interest litigation and other pro bono advocates aim to tame the illicit power of state and federal agencies and promote a new movement for civil liberties that will help restore the fundamental rights of Americans.


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