According to press release of NOAA, it refuses to grant Oceana the media exemption from research, screening and reproduction charges amounting to more than $16,000. This led Oceana to file legal suit against NOAA into U.S. District Court. Oceana made a FOIA request of NOAA in March for a variety of internal documents in various forms that the organization identified as valuable to its continuing campaign of public information and policy advocacy for sea turtles.
The suit states that Oceana was interested in records regarding the impact that trawl gear has had on turtles, bycatch and internal discussion of policies aimed at eliminating the waste. Many turtle species are endangered or threatened. NOAA said that it is ready to provide the documents but refused to grant a waiver of costs to the environmental group.
The suit resulted from NOAA’s denial of Oceana’s request for the waiver and denial of the appeal of the original ruling. Turtle bycatch has been a polarizing problem, pitting fishermen and animal advocates against each other in policy forums under NOAA jurisdiction.
Oceana’s complaint argues that it is “a representative of the news media” because, under the FOIA law, the news media is defined as “a person or entity that gathers information of potential interest to a segment of the public, uses editorial skills to turn the raw materials into a distinct work, and distributes that work to an audience.”
Oceana in its complaint said that it would not use the requested documents for commercial gain. In its suit, the organization said NOAA denied its waiver request because Oceana had not used “disseminated,” previously released information, and because the organization was “not likely” to use the requested documents to “contribute significantly to public understanding of government operations and activities.”
Oceana wrote that the agency insists on charging an improper and prohibitively expensive fee and has failed utterly to respond to Oceana’s requests that it reconsider its position. Without access to this information, Oceana is wrongfully obstructed from furthering its mission to protect the already threatened sea turtle population.