Environmentalists Sue State Over Flying Fish

     SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - California is stocking lakes by dumping nonnative fish from airplanes without permits, an environmental group claims in Federal Court.
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     Felice Pace and Wilderness Watch claim the California Department of Fish and Game is illegally jettisoning "fish by airplanes and canisters borne by packstock into waters of the United States, including those in federally designated areas."
     Pace, a fisherman and hiker from Klamath, in Del Norte County, claims the state is illegally stocking fish in that county and in Humboldt and Lake Counties.
     He claims the fish stocking harms him "by, among other things, altering the integrity of the waters he enjoys, introducing fish that were historically not present, elevating fish populations to unnatural levels, and adversely affecting native wildlife." 5
     Wilderness Watch, a Missoula, Mont.-based nonprofit, claims its members in the three counties are similarly harmed.
     "Fish and Game or its contractors stock fish or authorize the stocking of fish into certain lakes, rivers, and streams in California. Some species of stocked fish are native to the waters where they are stocked. Some species of stocked fish are not native to the waters where they are stocked. Some species of stocked fish are stocked into waters that historically had no fish. If Fish and Game and its contractors were to cease stocking or authorizing stocking of fish in California, roughly 60 percent of the waters previously stocked with fish would not have self-sustaining fisheries," the complaint states.
     The plaintiffs say the state does not have Clean Water Act permits to dump fish into lakes from airplanes, or to release fish fry "transported in oxygenated plastic bags" by horses and mules.
     They claim that stocked fish "alter the physical integrity of the lakes" by, among other things, changing nutrient cycles, spreading diseases to amphibians, eating tadpoles and competing with native fish for food.
     "Collectively, these impacts result in major changes to lake food webs. The water used to release fish can harbor non-native species of aquatic plants, invertebrates, and fish that is introduced into the lake being stocked," the complaint states.
     The plaintiffs say the stocked fish qualify as biological pollutants under the Clean Water Act because their addition can cause artificial "alterations to the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of waters of the state, and have deleterious effects on species of wildlife."
     Pace and Wilderness Watch say Fish and Game is violating the Clean Water Act, and seek a court order forcing the Department to stop stocking fish until it obtains the mandatory permits.
     They are represented by Julia Olson with Wild Earth Advocates in Eugene, Ore.