California's Anglers Claim Another Legal Victory

If Fish Could Talk...

Judge Denies Motion by Environmental Groups to Intervene in Litigation Challenging Regulations Closing Ocean Areas to Sportfishing.

Sacramento, CA – June 6, 2011 – A San Diego Superior Court judge has ordered that the Natural Resources Defense Council and Ocean Conservancy have no legal right to intervene in a lawsuit that seeks to preserve ocean sportfishing in California. That lawsuit, filed on January 27, 2011, by members of the Partnership for Sustainable Oceans (PSO) – United Anglers of Southern California, Coastside Fishing Club and Bob Fletcher – asks the court to set aside regulations established through the “Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative” which created massive fishing closures along California’s North Central and South Coasts. On the matter of intervention, members of the PSO argued, and the judge agreed, that the two environmental organizations did not have a direct and immediate interest in the litigation, and therefore will not be allowed to intervene on the side of the Fish and Game Commission.

“This is a significant victory for our overall legal effort,” said Dave Elm, Chairman of United Anglers of Southern California. “The state is capable of representing itself in this case, and allowing the Natural Resources Defense Council and Ocean Conservancy to intervene on their side would have only created additional burdens for the Court and unnecessarily added to our legal costs.”

The lawsuit against the MLPA Initiative cites a lack of statutory authority for the California Fish and Game Commission to adopt the closure regulations, and, in the case of the South Coast regulations, numerous violations of the California Environmental Quality Act in the Commission’s environmental review of the regulations. Soon after its filing, legal counsel for the Natural Resources Defense Council and Ocean Conservancy announced that they would seek to intervene on the side of the Commission. Had intervention been allowed, these groups would have become parties to the litigation with full rights to participate.

“These environmental groups have played a major role in influencing the MLPA Initiative towards excessive and unnecessary fishing closures through a seriously flawed process,” said Bob Fletcher of the Sportfishing Association of California and former Chief Deputy Director of the California Department of Fish and Game. “Throughout the MLPA process, anglers have had the deck stacked against us due in large part to the deep pockets of these pro-closure environmental organizations. We finally have a level playing field in the courts, and fortunately we have one important factor on our side – we’re right.”

The ruling on intervention is the latest in a series of victories for California’s sportfishing community in the legal effort against the MLPA Initiative. Last year, Fletcher filed and won a suit against the MLPA Blue Ribbon Task Force and Master Plan Team– also known as the Science Advisory Team – for failing to provide documents related to their MLPA planning efforts. These groups incorrectly claimed that they were not required to make their records available to the public under the Public Records Act on the ground that they are not “state agencies.” Once these records were finally disclosed, numerous long-standing suspicions about the lack of openness and transparency within the MLPA process were confirmed, including that the Blue Ribbon Task Force met numerous times outside of the public view in scheduled private meetings.

On March 11, 2011, a California Superior Court ruling ordered the Blue Ribbon Task Force and Master Plan Team to pay 100-percent of the legal fees incurred by members of the PSO in the Public Records Act case.

“Clearly our legal effort has strong standing, as the court has now decided in our favor three times,” noted Elm. “However, these victories don’t come cheap. I urge all anglers, and anyone who supports public access to public resources, to help us fight the flawed MLPA process in the courts by visiting and making a donation today.” ###