Aug. 29, 2005 – In a judgment that may lead to increased protection for a vulnerable species living in the waters off the Pacific Coast, a court determined Wednesday that a federal agencyâ€™s decision to allow increased fishing of darkblotched rockfish is in violation of a 1976 law enacted to manage and conserve the United States coastal fishery resources. The court ruled against heightened protections of three other groundfish species.
The ruling, handed down by a three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, found that the governmentâ€™s plan for reconstituting the scarce species does not comply with the law.
The suit was brought in 2002 by the Natural Resources Defense Council and the oceans advocacy group Oceana against the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), Secretary of Commerce Donald Evans, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The groups alleged that the 2002 catch limits approved by NMFS for five species in the Pacific Coast Groundfish Fishery "set fishing harvest levels that fail to protect overfished species of Pacific groundfish."
The plaintiffs argued that the National Marine Fisheries Serviceâ€™s decision to increase the darkblotched rockfish kill ceiling for the Pacific Coast Groundfish Fishery from 130 million tons in 2001 to 168 million tons in 2002 was in breach of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act.
In an interview with The NewStandard, Oceana senior counsel Janis Searles lauded the ruling, saying that the Ninth Circuit Court justices "recognized that conservation comes first, but conservation actually is economic and long-term sustainability in the end." She said NMFS will now "have to do something to bring those catch limits into compliance."
Although it agreed with environmental groups on their claims surrounding the darkblotched rockfish, the Ninth Circuit Court ruled against the groups on a claim seeking to protect three other Pacific groundfish species: bocaccio, cowcod and canary rockfish.