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Industry Groups Seek to Block Creation of Fishing Reserves Around Channel Islands

March 18, 2003|Jenifer Ragland | Times Staff Writer

Attorneys for a coalition of fishing groups argued Monday that a permanent ban on fishing around the Channel Islands would severely harm the groups' livelihood and sought a temporary restraining order to keep the newly approved restrictions from taking effect April 9.

A restraining order is needed to protect the financial interests of fishermen until a hearing on a permanent injunction against creation of the marine reserves, Ilson New, the coalition's attorney, said after the brief hearing in Ventura County Superior Court.

Fishermen fear that if they are prevented from fishing around the islands while their lawsuit proceeds they will lose customers to other areas, such as Mexico or Canada, New said. Those customers would be difficult to regain if the fishing groups prevail in the suit and the reserves are not created, he added.

"That's an enormous financial blow. It's severe," New said.

But Deputy Atty. Gen. Peter Von Haam, who is representing the state commission that proposed the ban, said the marine reserves make up only 19% of the state-controlled waters surrounding the islands off the coast of Ventura and Santa Barbara counties. He said fishermen are looking at a maximum of a 16% reduction in revenue as a result of the new regulations.

"That's outweighed by the benefits of maintaining the preserve," Von Haam said. "We need to get this going."

He also argued that the fishermen are unlikely to prevail in the lawsuit, which alleges, among other things, that commissioners illegally ignored fishermen's objections to the no-fishing zones, used flawed science and violated state environmental laws when they set the reserves' boundaries.

Judge Steven Hintz on Monday heard final arguments on the temporary restraining order and took the matter under submission. He did not indicate when he would issue a ruling.

The California Fish and Game Commission voted Oct. 23 to create the 175-square-mile network of marine reserves, one of the largest in U.S. waters.

Regulations formally establishing the marine reserves are meant to give endangered white abalone, rockfish, giant kelp forests and an array of other species a chance to recover from years of excessive fishing.

But the fishermen's lawsuit, filed Dec. 3, accuses the state of failing to collect baseline data for the protected marine areas before they created them, and failing to set up a monitoring plan. "These are not picky little objections or violations -- they are major," New said.

New said he is confident the fishing coalition, which includes the United Anglers of Southern California and the Southern California Commercial Fishing Assn., will win their case.

"We think we will prevail because we have black-letter law that they violated," New said. "These laws say, for example, that you have to give 15-day notice for a hearing. It's that simple. It's spelled out in English, and they didn't do that."

Von Haam said most of the allegations in the lengthy complaint are "simply untrue." For example, the lawsuit relies on the wrong laws in making its claims about improper notification, Von Haam said.

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