Ninth Circuit Upholds Federal Fishery Limits

     SAN FRANCISCO (CN) — The Ninth Circuit on Wednesday upheld a federal program that limits the number of Pacific whiting, or hake, fishermen can catch off the Northwest Coast.
     Two fishing companies, Pacific Dawn and Jessie’s Ilwaco Fish Co., sued the Secretary of Commerce and the National Marine Fisheries Service in 2013, claiming the Fisheries Service unreasonably refused to consider fishing activity after 2003 and 2004 when it set new quotas in 2011 and 2013.
     The three-judge panel Wednesday refused to overturn U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson’s 2013 grant of summary judgment. Writing for the panel, Judge Sandra Ikuta agreed that the Fisheries Service considered more recent fishing activity when it set quotas but that it “gave greater weight to historic participation” in setting the new limits.
     Pacific Dawn said it was “disappointed’ with the ruling.
     “The decision upholds an individual fishing quota program that resulted from no meaningful consideration of current harvests or present participation in the fishery, as Congress requires,” Pacific Dawn said in a statement.
     The fishing company complained the management plan gives 34 permits to “inactive” companies that “abandoned the Pacific whiting fishery in 2003” but “continue to receive a windfall at the expense of harvesters and processors who truly depend on the fishery.”
     Ikuta rejected that argument, finding the Fisheries Service took that issue into account but gave more weight to other factors, such as not encouraging companies to increase fishing in the years between the announcement and implementation of a new quota program.
     “The Secretary’s reasons for giving less weight to present participation, such as not rewarding increases in fishery activity after the control date was announced and maintaining the credibility of control dates in the future, are sufficient to uphold the Secretary’s actions,” Ikuta wrote.
     Before the new quota system was put in place in 2011 and amended in 2013, the government set an overall limit of how many whiting could be caught during a short season. That led to a “derby-style fishery” or “race for fish,” according to the ruling.
     The fishery zone, which stretches 200 miles off the coast of Northern California, Oregon and Washington, covers more than 90 species of fish that dwell close to the sea floor.
     The Environmental Defense Fund is one of several groups that intervened in the lawsuit and appeal to oppose Pacific Dawn’s challenge to the new fishery management plan.
     Shems Jud, Pacific regional director for the Environmental Defense Fund’s Oceans Program, called the Ninth Circuit ruling “a major win for the sustainable management of fish on the West Coast.”
     “A negative ruling could have threatened the West Coast groundfish catch share program and the strong conservation improvements it has brought about,” Jud said in a statement Wednesday. “By calling the validity of ‘control dates’ into question, a negative ruling also could have had ripple effects around the country making it much more difficult for fishery managers to effectively manage our nation’s fisheries.”

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