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Judge Puts Hold on California Rockfish Closure

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The statewide rockfish and lingcod fishing closure scheduled to start on November 21 was delayed because of a ruling in San Luis Obispo County Superior Court on the afternoon of November 20. The California Department of Fish and Game, after reviewing the case with its attorneys, said on November 26 that the new closure date in state waters would be Monday, December 8.

Judge Martin Tangeman ruled that the DFG failed to give sufficient legal notice of the procedure – only 9 days rather than the 10 days required. The Central Coast Fisheries Conservation Coalition (CCFCC) and other plaintiffs brought an action to stop the recreational rockfish closure. Judge Tangeman agreed with the plaintiffs and stopped the proposed closure.

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“Attorneys Shaunna Sullivan, Claire Corcoran and myself worked night and day for 4 days getting our legal papers together to fight this battle,” said Mel de la Motte, CCFCC attorney. “All of us were up past midnight working on this project almost every night. Well, it all paid off!”

A “Order to Show Cause” hearing, to which the public is invited to attend, will take place at 8:30 a.m. on December 8 at the Veterans Building on Grand Avenue in San Luis Obispo. Judge Tangeman will consider other reasons – besides failure to give legal notice – for stopping the proposed fishing closure.

 

These include claims that the federal data used to support the closure is so inaccurate that it should not be used for inseason changes.

“It will be another big battle,” said de la Motte. “Our main attack is that the data used to support the closure, called MRFSS-data, is complete garbage! The DFG and Feds know that it is garbage, but say it is the “best available science”. We say that data that is so far off base that it has zero reliability and is not worthy of being called ‘science'”

Sonke Mastrup, interim DFG director, said in a press release immediately after the judge’s ruling that recreational fishing in state waters would remain open “until further notice.”

“Further notice” was given on Tuesday, November 26, when the DFG announced that California’s recreational rockfish fisheries are scheduled to close at midnight, Monday, Dec. 8, The closure is necessary to “protect the fish populations and future fishing opportunities,” according to the press release.

The closure affects recreational fishing for rockfishes, California scorpionfish (sculpin) and lingcod. The commercial fishery for California sheephead will also close on December 8. These closures will be in effect for all state waters (shore to three miles) along the coast, affects all methods of take and will last through the remainder of the year.

The DFG originally took action to close California’s recreational rockfish fisheries and the commercial sheephead fishery effective November 21, due to harvest limits being met and following federal action taken by the Pacific Fishery Management Council (PFMC).

“Both the state and federal government have adopted regulatory protections that have now been triggered based on the health of these resources and the catch by fishermen,” said Mastrup.

Since the judge ruled that DFG had given “improper notice” on the closure, the DFG indicated on November 25 that it was “renoticing” both closures and “is asking fishermen voluntarily not to fish these fisheries until they legally close.”

The PFMC took action to close recreational and commercial fishing for groundfish in its meeting in Del Mar, California on November 5 due to alleged impacts by recreational anglers on lingcod and canary rockfish, two federally designated “overfished” groundfish species.

However, recreational fishing groups, including CCFCC, RFA/Coastside Fishing Club, United Anglers of California and United Anglers of Southern California, condemned the federal PFMC for closing the season six weeks early based on highly inaccurate catch data.

The controversial MRFSS, based on the “data” of 319 anglers obtained out of 6,000 random phone calls, claimed that 14 metric tons of canary rockfish (an overfished species) had been caught by anglers in July and August, even though zero canary rockfish may be retained by anglers.

The survey also alleged that recreational anglers had caught over 60,000 pounds (30 metric tons) of lingcod before July 1, even though the rockcod season south of Cape Mendocino didn’t even open until July 1, according to Randy Fry, president of the Norcal Chapter of the Recreational Fishing Alliance (RFA).

After hearing of the court ruling, Fry said he was “happy that CCFCC and RFA/Coastside are working together.”

Steve Moore, owner of Patriot Sportfishing in Avila Beach, was excited by the ruling.

“I will be able to provide fishing charters during Thanksgiving, which is very important to our business,” said Moore. “The ruling will keep my employees from going on unemployment right before Christmas.”

He added, “This is a fantastic decision for fishermen. Sometimes the system works and justice is done.”

Making the situation even more complicated, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger this week issued an executive order putting an 180 day hold on all administrative regulations enacted since 1999. All of these regulations will be subject to a 90 day review. This review process may impact not only the groundfish closure, but all of the fishery regulations made since 1999.

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