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Posted by LOBSTERGUY on April 21, 2011 at 18:18:57:

MLPA Task Force Must Repay Legal Fees to Angling Groups
By: Taylor Hill | Wednesday, April 20, 2011 10:32:00 AM
Last updated: Wednesday, April 20, 2011 10:32:00 AM

A California Superior Court issued a ruling March 10 ordering the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Blue Ribbon Task Force and Master Plan Team to repay the legal fees of the recreational angling groups involved in a 2010 lawsuit that called for the Task Force and Plan Team to release information on their decision to adopt Marine Protected Areas off California’s coast.

Photo by: California Department of Fish and Game
Fair and Open? -- A California court ruled that the MLPA Blue Ribbon Task Force, which developed the approved South Coast Study Region Marine Protected Areas map, must pay the legal fees of angling groups involved in a lawsuit stating that the public agency was not operating in an open and transparent manner.

“This latest court decision has given both encouragement and additional resources to our efforts,” said David Elm, chairman of United Anglers of Southern California and director of the Ocean Access Protection Fund.

“Even more important than the financial ramifications of this decision is the signal that it sends,” Elm added. “The court has now decided in our favor twice, based on the merits of our original case against the (MLPA) Blue Ribbon Task Force and Master Plan Team.”

In the original case, the court ruled in Oct. 2010 in favor of Robert Fletcher, former president of the Sportfishing Association of California, ordering the Task Force and Plan Team to release information regarding their administrative activities and decisions. The court determined that even though the MLPA Blue Ribbon Task Force and Master Plan Team are privately funded, they are public agencies and are therefore required to carry on their business in an open and transparent way, according to the Public Records Act.

“I think it’s a major victory in a long process,” said George Osborn, a lobbyist for the Partnership for Sustainable Oceans, who represented Fletcher in the case, and angling groups at the Department of Fish and Game MLPA implementation meetings. “Clearly, the law has been violated -- and the court will, at the end of the day, set aside the MLPA regulations that have been adopted by the Department of Fish and Game (DFG) Commission.”

After anglers and angling groups opposed to the Marine Protected Areas along Southern California lost the battle at the DFG commission meetings, the Partnership for Sustainable Oceans (PSO) -- a group representing California recreational anglers and boaters -- filed a lawsuit Jan. 27 to stop the proposed South Coast MPAs.

The decision to file a suit came after many months of emotional and tension-filled meetings between proponents and opponents of MPAs. A final vote Dec. 15 by the Fish and Game Commission approved the creation of 36 new MPAs encompassing approximately 187 square miles of state waters in the South Coast study region.

Similar closures and limitations are already in place in the North Central Coast (Alder Creek near Point Arena to Pigeon Point) and Central Coast (Pigeon Point to Point Conception) regions.

The second lawsuit filed by Fletcher and PSO looks to stop the Marine Life Protection Act initiative that is currently set to close or limit fishing on approximately 15 percent of Southern California’s coast -- including fishing hot spots along La Jolla, Laguna Beach, Palos Verdes and Santa Catalina Island.

The South Coast region is the third of five California coastal regions to implement Marine Protected Areas in an effort to comply with the state’s 1999 Marine Life Protection Act.

The main points of the second suit state that the commission does not have the statutory authority to adopt, modify or delete Marine Protected Areas under the MLPA’s main rulemaking provisions until it has approved a final Master Plan for the state, which has yet to be finalized.

Other points in the suit state that the privately funded MLPA initiative process has been conducted in a manner inconsistent with the process the state legislature directed in the MLPA, and meetings held by MLPA planning groups that should have been open meetings were closed to the public. The South Coast study region regulations were adopted on the basis of an environmental review process that is in violation of the California Environmental Quality Act, the suit states.

“This is the second (ruling) in favor of recreational anglers, but this fight is not over,” said Wendy Tochihara, national sales manager for Izorline International. “There is still another lawsuit seeking to set aside the MLPA regulations for the North Central and South Coast study regions. We still have a long battle ahead of us.”

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