On November 5, 2014, the Supreme Court will hear oral argument in a case technically captioned as Yates v. United States, but colloquially known as The Fish Case. The facts of the case are, in a word, bizarre; the government’s theory, even more so. The problem is two-fold: This is a real case, not a law school hypothetical, and the government persuaded the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals to rule in its favor. The Eleventh Circuit held that the Sarbanes-Oxley Act -- a statute designed to prevent corporate fraud and accounting shenanigans from sinking large corporations -- makes it a crime for a fisherman to engage in a catch-and-release program.
In 2007, John Yates was the captain of the Miss Katie, a commercial fishing boat working in the Gulf of Mexico. John Jones, a federally deputized Florida Fish and Game Wildlife Commission officer, was patrolling offshore. He saw the Miss Katie, boarded it to conduct a safety inspection, and found some undersized red grouper. He told Yates to put the grouper aside for reinspection when he returned to port, but Yates decided retroactively to adopt a “catch-and-release” program. Yates threw the undersized fish overboard, and replaced them with fish that were large enough to be caught. Bad move.