California's landmark decision to establish the nation's largest
network of marine reserves did not violate state law and will be allowed to
stand, a state appeals court has ruled.
In a significant victory for environmentalists and biologists who support the "no-fishing zones" designed to restore declining ocean species, the Fourth District Court of Appeal late Monday turned back a challenge by the Coastside Fishing Club, based in Martinez. The group had sued, arguing that the rules went too far and violated state law.
"We're very heartened. It's really good news for the future of California's coast," said Karen Garrison, co-director of ocean programs at the Natural Resources Defense Council in San Francisco.
From 2007 to 2012, the state Fish and Game Commission set up 124 new reserves along California's 1,100-mile coast from Oregon to Mexico. The reserves ban or limit fishing in roughly 16 percent of state waters from the shoreline out to three miles offshore.
The idea behind marine reserves, which are supported by organizations such as the Monterey Bay Aquarium, is to create national forests of the ocean.
For decades, the government has set catch limits and seasons for salmon, Dungeness crab, rockfish and other species. But the reserves go much further, drawing boundaries where little or no fishing is allowed so that fish, crabs, starfish and other species can recover, then seed larger areas of the ocean with their young.
Fishing groups, however, have generally opposed the rules, saying the state put too many areas off limits, particularly rocky areas along the bottom that provide the best fishing grounds.
"What they did was like saying, 'We're only going to close 8 percent of California to driving, but it's the 8 percent with roads,'" Marc Gorelnik, an attorney for the Coastside Fishing Club, said on Tuesday.
The club, which has about 10,000 members who are recreational fishing enthusiasts, sued in 2010. It challenged the way the state Fish and Game Commission wrote the rules for the "North Central" section of the California coast, stretching from Pigeon Point in San Mateo County north about 150 miles to Point Arena near Mendocino.
In 2009, the commission approved new rules that banned or limited commercial and recreational fishing in 20 percent of state waters in the area. The rules took effect a year later.
The Coastside Fishing Club sued. It lost in Superior Court in San Diego, then fell short again on appeal Monday.
"Considering the enormous investment of time and effort by so many that went into their creation, we are loathe to hold the North Central Coast regulations invalid and undo the arduous process that resulted in their adoption absent a compelling reason to do so," Associate Justice Terry O'Rourke of the San Diego-based Fourth District Court of Appeal wrote in a published opinion.
Gorelnik said the Coastside Fishing Club has not yet decided whether to appeal to the state Supreme Court.
He said the organization supports healthy oceans and plans to release 160,000 juvenile hatchery chinook salmon off Half Moon Bay this month.
"The threats to the ocean are not coming from recreational hook-and-line fishermen, but we've been an easy target," he said. "We feel that the closures have not been adequately justified and effort has gone there that perhaps should have gone to more significant environmental threats, including pollution, sewage spills, agricultural runoff, and large diversions of water from the Delta."
But Garrison, of the Natural Resources Defense Council, said that marine reserves are a proven tool for restoring the health of declining fish species.
She noted that in February a group of scientists published a study showing that populations and sizes of several key species of fish, such as rockfish and lingcod, along with starfish, urchins, crabs and other sea life, have increased more in number and abundance in the protected areas established in 2007 between San Mateo and Santa Barbara counties than in unprotected ocean areas nearby.
"Protected areas are working," she said. "People are engaged and excited about them. Now the legal win makes them very solid."
(c)2013 the San Jose Mercury News (San Jose, Calif.)
Distributed by MCT Information Services
Hispanic #1 Breaking News for Entrepreneurs, Professionals and Small Business Owners - HispanicBusiness.com
OCTOBER 30, 2014
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