Anglers’ Group Files Suit Over New No-Fishing Zones

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Anglers’ Group Files Suit Over New No-Fishing Zones

SACRAMENTO -- After losing the battle to keep prime fishing waters open during California State Fish and Game Commission meetings, the Partnership for Sustainable Oceans (PSO) -- a group representing California recreational anglers and boaters -- filed a lawsuit Jan. 27 to invalidate newly approved South Coast Marine Protected Areas (MPAs).

The lawsuit looks to stop the Marine Life Protection Act initiative that is currently set to close or limit fishing along approximately 15 percent of Southern California’s coast, including fishing hot spots off La Jolla, Laguna Beach, Palos Verdes and Santa Catalina Island.

United Anglers of Southern California, Coastside Fishing Club and former Sportfishing Association of California president Robert Fletcher filed the lawsuit, which cites a lack of statutory authority for adopting the regulations -- and, in the case of the South Coast regulations, numerous violations of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) in the commission’s environmental review of the regulations.

“From the outset, it was clear that the MLPA process was set up to reach a predetermined outcome under the fiction of an allegedly open and transparent process,” Fletcher said. “In a rush to establish regulations based on political timelines and a pre-determined agenda, the Fish and Game Commission has ignored the legal requirements it must follow.”

The main points of the suit state that the commission does not have the statutory authority to adopt, modify or delete Marine Protected Areas under the MLPA’s main rulemaking provisions until it has approved a final Master Plan for the state, which has yet to be written.The privately-funded MLPA Initiative process has been conducted in a manner inconsistent with the process the state legislature directed in the MLPA, and meetings held by MLPA planning groups that should have been open meetings were closed to the public, the suit claims. The South Coast study region regulations were adopted on the basis of an environmental review process that is in violation of CEQA, it further claims.

The suit comes after many months of emotional and tension-filled meetings with proponents and opponents of MPAs. South Coast closures came to a final vote by the Fish and Game Commission Dec. 15. The commission’s approval created 36 new MPAs encompassing approximately 187 square miles of state waters in the South Coast study region.

Similar closures and limits are already in place in the North Central Coast (Alder Creek near Point Arena to Pigeon Point) and Central Coast (Pigeon Point to Point Conception) regions.

The South Coast is the third of five California coastal regions to implement Marine Protected Areas in an effort to comply with the state’s 1999 Marine Life Protection Act.

“Much of the best fishing areas are now closed under the MLPA process,” said Dan Wolford, science director for the Coastside Fishing Club. “Anglers in the North Central region are now suffering because of excessive, unnecessary closures that we believe were improperly established.”

The petition is the second lawsuit filed by Fletcher and PSO dealing with the MLPA. In October 2010, a California Superior Court ruled in favor of Fletcher, stating that the MLPA Blue Ribbon Task Force and Master Plan Team are state agencies and are required to make their records available to the public. Members of PSO believed the panel was withholding much information from the public.

“This process has been very disappointing,” said Wendy Tochihara, national sales manager for Izorline International, who was part of the Regional Stakeholders Group involved in the planning process of the MPAs. “I came in with an open mind, and was part of the MLPA dog and pony show.

“Tourists from out of state are going to stop spending money in California, due to these closures,” she added. “It will not only affect our fishing and coastal communities, but it will also affect transportation, lodging, food and boating industries -- and many more.”

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