that the rulemaking at issue in this action was the product of proceedings which spanned nearly four years and which culminated in a voluminous record. Plaintiff and more than 70 other parties submitted comments which addressed a vast range of scientific and technical issues. Plaintiff has participated in these proceedings from the outset. In accordance with our order of September 6, 1978, plaintiff was even given the unique opportunity to present additional material in support of its position after the formal closing of the record. The Secretaries' final decision to eliminate a proposed mariculture exemption was therefore made after affording plaintiff a full and fair opportunity to present evidence in support of a mariculture exemption.
The defendant Secretaries advanced several facts and policy concerns in support of their decision to withdraw the proposed mariculture exemption from the sea turtle regulations. First, the Secretaries found that trade of commercial mariculture products would have a deleterious impact upon sea turtle populations in the wild. Second, the Secretaries found that the likely inadequacy of measures to enforce compliance with a mariculture exemption would also pose a threat to wild populations of sea turtles. Third, the Secretaries found that the benefits of scientific research which would accrue from a mariculture exemption do not outweigh the risks to the survival of wild sea turtle populations. Fourth, the Secretaries found that the Cayman Turtle Farm was not totally independent of wild eggs and wild turtles. See Dec. Mem. As will be discussed below, each of these findings has a reasonable basis of support in the administrative record.
1. Deleterious Impact Upon Wild Sea Turtle Population
The administrative record reveals that there is considerable uncertainty over the precise long-term impact of mariculture activities upon wild sea turtle populations but there is ample evidence to support a finding that such activities would be detrimental to the prospects for the survival of wild sea turtles. Evidence in the administrative record is adequate to support the finding that a mariculture exemption would provide an incentive for the establishment of other turtle farms which, like Cayman Turtle Farm, would at least initially be dependent upon eggs taken from the wild.
/ Even if other turtle farms attempted to acquire wild eggs which would not otherwise have hatched, there is a significant risk that, as in the case of Cayman Turtle Farm, eggs nevertheless may be procured from viable nests thereby depleting the potential stock of wild sea turtles.
/ Moreover, even if other farms procured doomed eggs, there is evidence in the record that the procurement of doomed eggs may reduce the total stock of viable eggs because predators, including man, may then have to resort to viable eggs to satisfy their existing consumptive demands for turtle eggs.
Evidence in the record also supports the Secretaries' contention that the total number of wild sea turtles may be reduced by increased illegal poaching of wild sea turtles. The record contains evidence that plaintiff's marketing of sea turtle products would increase consumer demand for these products.
/ Increased demand would provide a strong economic incentive for the illegal marketing of wild sea turtles. The likelihood of such illegal trade is increased by evidence indicating that the products of wild sea turtles are readily able to be substituted for the products of turtles reared at the Cayman Turtle Farm.
/ The record also contains evidence that such illegal trade has occurred and is increasing.
/ Evidence in the record was therefore more than ample to permit the Secretaries to conclude that the survival of wild sea turtles would be threatened by either the formation of additional turtle farms or by increased illegal poaching. Both of these consequences could reasonably flow from the implementation of a mariculture exemption.
2. Inadequacy of Enforcement Measures
The administrative record also adequately demonstrates that the Secretaries had a reasonable factual basis to conclude that the absence of adequate measures to enforce the mariculture exemption increases the likelihood that the products of wild sea turtles will be illegally imported into the United States. As noted previously, evidence in the record is sufficient to demonstrate that many farm sea turtle products, such as oil, soup ingredients, and shell sections, are virtually indistinguishable from wild sea turtle products.
/ The agencies are uniquely situated to determine whether they possess the requisite expertise and resources to enforce mariculture exemption at the points of importation or at other inspection sites. The agencies could reasonably conclude that these inspection and monitoring difficulties would be markedly exacerbated because of limited resources and jurisdictional authority to supervise foreign mariculture operations.
3. Scientific Research Benefits of Mariculture Facilities
The administrative record is also adequate to support the Secretaries' finding that the benefits of scientific research performed at the Cayman Turtle Farm do not outweigh the other risks to the species posed by mariculture exemption. The record does indicate that research into the propagation and development of the green sea turtle populations would continue at least at the Federal Government project in Galveston, Texas in the absence of a mariculture exemption for plaintiff's farm turtle products.
/ Conversely, as argued by intervenor, the record does not document the necessity of a mariculture exemption for continuation of those scientific benefits which have been facilitated by studies conducted at the Cayman Turtle Farm. Moreover, the record does support the agencies' conclusion that the scientific benefits from research conducted at Cayman Turtle Farm may constitute only a minimal contribution to the conservation of the sea turtle.
/ Without disparaging the quality of scientific research conducted at the Cayman Turtle Farm, the Secretaries could conclude that the benefits derived from this research were insufficient to justify the creation of a mariculture exemption.
4. Self Sufficiency of the Operation
Plaintiff devotes considerable discussion of the evidence in the record which supports their contention that Cayman Turtle Farm is a self-sufficient, closed-cycle operation completely independent of wild stocks of sea turtles. An initial point of contention is whether the secretaries have properly defined the term "closed-cycle" to include only operations where all farm hatchlings are produced from parents which also were farm hatchlings.
/ According to plaintiff, the term "closed-cycle" should be more loosely interpreted to refer to populations which can be sustained without further acquisition of wild stocks. The interpretation advocated by defendants and intervenor, however, is consistent with the protective policy of the Endangered Species Act of 1973. Moreover, the defendants and intervenors more strict definition of "closed-cycle" comports with the terms and underlying policy of the resolution adopted by the parties to the Convention.
The Secretaries had adequate evidence in the record to conclude that plaintiff had not established a closed-cycle operation within the agencies' valid definition of that term. The record contains undisputed evidence that a significant percentage of the breeding herd and of the recent hatchlings were not born of parents which had mated on the farm.
/ In addition, it may be premature to determine that the breeding cycle at Cayman Turtle Farm can be completed from farm laid egg to farm laid egg. According to testimony contained in the record, hatchlings from eggs first laid at the farm will not become sexually mature until the early 1980's.
/ Thus, despite evidence of the apparent success of breeding efforts at the Cayman Turtle Farm, the Secretaries had sufficient information before them to conclude that plaintiff had not established the sort of closed-cycle operation which could be entitled to a mariculture exemption if a mariculture exemption was otherwise warranted. However, since the Secretaries also had an adequate basis in the record to conclude that a general mariculture exemption would be contrary to their obligation under and the policies contained in the Endangered Species Act of 1973 and the Convention, the Secretaries' decision to eliminate a mariculture exemption can be sustained without regard to the definitional question of whether Cayman Turtle Farm can be deemed a "closed-cycle" or "self-sufficient" operation.
C. Reasonableness of Agency Decision on the Basis of the Administrative Record
As should be apparent from the foregoing discussion, each of the Secretaries' explanations for the elimination of the mariculture exemption for sea turtles has an adequate factual and policy basis in the administrative record. Although the Secretaries had evidence that Cayman Turtle Farm could rear increasing numbers of sea turtles in a commercially successful manner, the Secretaries had a sufficient evidentiary basis to conclude that a mariculture exemption would threaten the existence of sea turtles in the wild. Elimination of the mariculture exemption was certainly a reasonable administrative response to the information adduced during the extensive administrative proceedings.
After one of the most comprehensive administrative proceedings held under the authority of the Endangered Species Act of 1973, the Secretaries of the Interior and Commerce compiled an administrative record fully adequate to support the issuance of sea turtle regulations which did not contain an exemption for the commercial mariculture activities engaged in by plaintiff Cayman Turtle Farm. Those regulations, which were properly sensitive to the environmental interest in the preservation of threatened and endangered wild sea turtles, were authorized under the Endangered Species Act of 1973 and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora and should be sustained.
An order consistent with the foregoing has been entered this day.
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