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Fishing Fee Scheme in California Ruled Unfair

(CN) - California's practice of charging out-of-state fishermen two to three times more for fishing licenses than state residents is unconstitutional, a federal judge ruled.

Kevin Marilley and other out-of-state fishermen challenged the disparity in the fees for in-state and out-of-state commercial fishing licenses, vessel registrations, herring gill net permits and Dungeness crab vessel permits.

They filed a federal lawsuit against Charlton Bonham, director of the California Department of Fish and Game. The plaintiffs claimed that the fee differentials, which began in 1986, violated the equal protection and privileges and immunities clauses of the U.S. Constitution.

The latter clause prohibits state governments from giving their residents an unfair advantage in business.

In the 12-month period that started on April 1, 2012, a commercial fishing license cost $130.03 for residents and $385.75 for nonresidents. Vessel registrations cost $338.75 in state and $1,002.25 out of state.

Bonham argued that California's fisheries spend more than they take in, and the fees against nonresidents do not make up that difference, so the state is not unfairly compensating itself through the fee differential.

U.S. District Judge Donna Ryu in Oakland, Calif., found last week the fee differential unconstitutional.

"Non-resident commercial fishermen pay more than double of what their resident competitors pay toward covering their share of the shortfall in the state's investment," the 28-page decision states. "Contrary to defendant's characterization, this is not a 'fair share.'"

"In sum, as defendant has failed to meet its burden to show the existence of a genuine dispute of fact regarding whether its differential fees are closely related to a substantial state interest, summary judgment must therefore be granted to plaintiffs," Ryu added.

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