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Judge Refuses to Block Marine Reserves Opening

March 27, 2003|Kenneth R. Weiss | Times Staff Writer

A Ventura County judge Wednesday declined to block the opening of new marine reserves around the Channel Islands, suggesting that fishing groups that sued to halt the ban on fishing are unlikely to win their case.

In a brief written ruling, Judge Steven Hintz denied a request for a temporary restraining order to halt the opening of a network of marine reserves that will prohibit virtually all fishing across 175 square miles. The reserves are set to open April 9.

At that time more than a dozen areas, including some popular fishing grounds, will be off-limits in an effort to allow a wide array of fish and shellfish a chance to recover from decades of excessive fishing.

"After reading the voluminous exhibits submitted by the parties," Hintz wrote, he believes that blocking the reserves "is against the public interest" and "the likelihood that plaintiffs will ultimately prevail in the litigation is not proved to be likely."

Ilson New, an attorney for a coalition of commercial and recreational fishermen, said he was "shocked at the brevity of the ruling considering the magnitude of the case."

In lengthy legal documents, the attorney for the Ventura County Commercial Fishermen's Assn. and various sports fishing groups argued that the closures would harm the livelihood of fishermen. The lawsuit alleges various constitutional, statutory and procedural violations by the California Fish and Game Commission when it approved the reserves in October.

"We are not saying we want to be able to damage something," New said. "All we are saying is we want to preserve the status quo, allow fishermen to do what they've been doing out there for 100 years."

John Maddox, an attorney for the California Department of Fish and Game, said the ruling shows that the commissioners followed all appropriate laws and that fishermen are not likely to prevail in the case.

"Over time, we will be able to show these reserves are the best investment for our ocean wildlife," said Kate Wing of the Natural Resources Defense Council. "We think in the long run, it will be better for the fish and fishermen that we set some areas aside and increase our population of fish."

The council and four other environmental groups are trying to intervene in the case, but have not yet been granted permission to do so.

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