Appeals Court Says Feds Must Increase Protection for Depleted Pacific Groundfish
SAN FRANCISCO An appeals court ruled Wednesday that the federal government must increase protections for the Pacific fish species commonly known as red snapper, whose population has been depleted by overfishing.
The decision by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reverses a lower court ruling that the National Marine Fisheries Service did not violate federal law when it boosted fishing quotas for the species, the darkblotched rockfish.
In 2002, conservation groups sued the fisheries service, alleging that its violated the law by raising fishing quotas for darkblotched rockfish by nearly 30 percent even though it knew the species was severely overfished.
On Wednesday, the San Francisco-based court sided with the environmentalists, calling the 2002 quota "patently unreasonable." Quotas for darkblotched rockfish have stayed the same or risen over the past three years.
The three-judge panel said federal law requires the government to give conservation of fisheries priority over the short-term economic interests of fishing communities.
"Without immediate efforts at rebuilding depleted fisheries, the very long-term survival of those fishing communities is in doubt," the court wrote.
The court sent the case back to the lower court to decide what measures the fisheries service must take to protect darkblotched rockfish.
Environmentalists were pleased with the decision.
"Strong protections for overfished species not only help the fish, but they also help the long-term economics of the fishing industry," said Drew Caputo, an attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council, one of the plaintiffs.
The National Marine Fisheries Service was disappointed in the ruling, but was encouraged that "the court sees we have some flexibility in considering the economic needs of fishing communities," said spokesman Brian Gorman.
The appeals court upheld the lower court's decision on fishing quotas for three other groundfish species.
Source: Associated Press