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Douglas v. Seacoast Products, Inc., 431 U.S. 265 (1977)

Douglas v. Seacoast Products, Inc.

No. 75-1255

Argued January 17, 1977

Decided May 23, 1977

431 U.S. 265


The federal enrollment and licensing laws, under which vessels engaged in domestic or coastwise trade or used for fishing are "enrolled" for the purpose of evidencing their national character and to enable them to obtain licenses regulating the use to which the vessels may be put held to preempt Virginia statutes that, in effect, prohibit nonresidents of Virginia from catching menhaden in the Virginia portion of Chesapeake Bay and that bar noncitizens (regardless of where they reside) from obtaining commercial fishing licenses for any kind of fish from Virginia. Hence, under the Supremacy Clause, the Virginia laws cannot prevent appellees, whose fishing vessels, though foreign owned, have been federally licensed, from fishing for menhaden in Virginia's waters. Pp. 431 U. S. 271-287.

(a) Gibbons v. Ogden, 9 Wheat. 1 (1824), decided three decades after the federal enrollment and licensing laws were enacted (and which have been reenacted without substantial change), established the invalidity of discriminatory state regulation of shipping as applied to vessels federally licensed to engage in the coasting trade, though subsequent decisions have permitted States to impose upon federal licensees reasonable nondiscriminatory conservation and environmental protection measures otherwise within the state police power. Pp. 431 U. S. 274-279.

(b) The license does not merely establish the nationality of the vessel (which is performed by the enrollment), but "implies, unequivocally, an authority to licensed vessels to carry on" the activity for which they are licensed. Gibbons, supra, at 22 U. S. 212. Pp. 431 U. S. 282.

(c) The Virginia statutes, by prohibiting federally licensed vessels owned by nonresidents of Virginia from fishing in Chesapeake Bay and by not allowing such ships owned by noncitizens to catch fish anywhere in the Commonwealth, deny licensees their federally granted right to engage in fishing activities on the same terms as state residents. P. 431 U. S. 283.

Page 431 U. S. 266

(d) The broad language of the Submerged Lands Act did not impliedly repeal the federal licensing laws. Pp. 431 U. S. 283-284.

432 F.Supp. 1 affirmed.

MARSHALL, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and BRENNAN, WHITE, STEWART, BLACKMUN, and STEVENS, JJ., joined, and in all but Parts II-D and III of which POWELL and REHNQUIST, JJ., joined. REHNQUIST, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment and concurring in part and dissenting in part, in which POWELL, J., joined, post, p. 431 U. S. 287.

Page 431 U. S. 267

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