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The Submerged Lands Act does give the States "title," "ownership," and the right and power to manage, administer, lease, develop, and use the lands beneath the oceans and natural resources in the waters within state territorial jurisdiction. 43 U.S.C.S. § 1311(a). But when Congress made this grant pursuant to the Property Clause of the Constitution, it expressly retained for the United States all constitutional powers of regulation and control over these lands and waters for purposes of commerce, navigation, national defense, and international affairs.
Although they had federal licenses authorizing them to use their vessels for menhaden fishing, a corporation and its subsidiaries were restricted in fishing for menhaden in Virginia territorial waters by Virginia statutes which limited the right of nonresidents to catch fish in Virginia territorial waters and limited the issuance of commercial fishing licenses to United States citizens, thus subjecting nonresidents and aliens to restrictions different from those applicable to Virginia residents and American citizens. In an action brought in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, the corporation and its subsidiaries challenged the constitutionality of the Virginia statutes, and the three-judge District Court struck down the statutes as being pre-empted by federal law and violative of the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
Were the two Virginia statutes that limit the right of nonresidents and aliens to catch fish in the territorial waters of the Commonwealth constitutional?
The court held that the Virginia statutes were pre-empted by federal enrollment and licensing laws for fishing vessels by the Supremacy Clause. The federal license issued company to catch menhaden and could not be pre-empted by the denial of a state license. Neither did the Submerged Lands Act, 43 U.S.C.S. §§ 1301-1315, which gave title to the fish in states' territorial waters to such states, alter federal pre-emption.