Douglas v. Seacoast Products, Inc.

RESPONDENT:Seacoast Products, Inc.
LOCATION:City of Philadelphia

DOCKET NO.: 75-1255
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1975-1981)

CITATION: 431 US 265 (1977)
ARGUED: Jan 17, 1977
DECIDED: May 23, 1977

John J. Loflin, Jr.
James E. Moore

Facts of the case


Media for Douglas v. Seacoast Products, Inc.

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument – January 17, 1977 in Douglas v. Seacoast Products, Inc.

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement – May 23, 1977 in Douglas v. Seacoast Products, Inc.

Warren E. Burger:

The judgment and opinion of the Court in 75-1255, Douglas against Seacoast Products will be announced by Mr. Justice Marshall.

Thurgood Marshall:

This case is here on appeal from the District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia.

At issue is the validity of two Virginia statutes that limit the rights of aliens and of non-residence of the Commonwealth to engage in commercial fishing in Virginia’s territorial waters.

Under an Act pay us to 1975, “Alien fishermen may not catch fish anywhere in Virginia that would be processed for industrial use,” an older law permitting non-residence to catch such fish in three-mile wide territorial sea of the Virginia’s East Coast, but prohibits them from fishing in the waters of Chesapeake Bay.

Appellees are three related corporations engaged in commercial fishing for menhaden fish.

That’s inedible fish used for commercial purposes only.

Under affidavits of the Virginia statute, the appellees are considered to be both non-residence and aliens, and they are unable to pursue their business in Virginia.

Appellees brought this suit enjoined and forced from the state laws on the grounds that they were repugnant to various federal laws and constitutional provisions.

A three-judge district court granted the relief and the state official responsible for enforcing the law has appealed to us.

In an opinion filed today, we hold that both of the Virginia statutes are invalid because they are preempted by the Federal Licensing and Enrolment Act.

Under this federal, law dating from 1793, appellees have been granted federal licenses given their fishing vessels the right to quote “to be employed and carrying on the mackerel fishery,” which includes the right to fish for menhaden.

In the case of Gibbons against Ogden decide unimproved few years ago, this Court held that a license issued under the State’ statute under the same statute, federal statute to a vessel employed in the coasting trade, preempted a state law prohibiting such use of the vessel in state waters.

Because we conclude that appellees’ federal fishery licenses have the same preemptive effect as the coasting license in Gibbons, the conflicting Virginia law must fall under the Supremacy Clause.

I should add, however, that the federal right granted to appellees only allows them to fish in Virginia waters on the same terms as other state residence does come for suit fishing laws that operate, even handling against all fishermen such as seasonal fishing restrictions and limits on total catch, the size of the fish taken or the use of certain fishing gear are not affected by our decision.

States can thus protect their marine resources from destructive overfishing.

All that they may not do is reserve them exclusively for their own residence or citizens while excluding other fishermen licensed under federal law.

Mr. Justice Rehnquist joined by Mr. Justice Powell had filed an opinion concurring the judgment and concurring in impart, dissenting in impart with opinion.

Warren E. Burger:

Thank you Mr. Justice Marshall.