Judge rules in favor of California recreational angling groups; officials must release public records on Marine Life Protection Act
A California judge issued a ruling last week confirming that the Marine Life Protection Act Blue Ribbon Task Force and the Master Plan Science Advisory Team are state agencies and therefore compelled by the state's Public Records Act to share information with representatives of angling and conservation organizations working to protect recreational ocean access.
The ruling by Superior Court Judge Patrick Marlette in Sacramento came in response to a lawsuit filed on behalf of Robert C. Fletcher, former president of the Sportfishing Assn. of California, a member organization in the Partnership for Sustainable Oceans.
"This is a very significant ruling to the many recreational angling groups and individuals across California who have invested so much time and energy in the MLPA process," Fletcher said. "This ruling validates our long-held position that the groups implementing the MLPA and making decisions that result in closures of large areas of the Pacific Ocean to recreational activities cannot carry on as if they were not agencies of the state. Like any other state agency, these groups are responsible to the public and must do their work in an open and transparent way that the public can learn about through laws like the Public Records Act."
Thus far, regulations are in effect along the North Central Coast and the Central Coast and a proposal for the South Coast region, from Point Conception to the U.S.-Mexico border, is under review. Once approved by the California Fish and Game Commission, it will establish a network of state marine reserves along the Southern California coast and at the Channel Islands to help conserve fisheries and habitat. The reserves are to be off-limits to fishing and other types of consumptive activities.
"Now we'll get to see information that has been previously hidden from us about key decisions made by the BRTF and MPT," said Steven Fukuto, president of United Anglers of Southern California and director of the Ocean Access Protection Fund, a division of UASC formed to rally California anglers and sportsmen in support of legal action.
"Our success in this lawsuit will allow us to shine a light on important decisions that have been made in the dark. We have every confidence this ruling will help us better understand how decisions have been made under the MLPA, and to examine the legal basis for those decisions on behalf of anglers and sportsmen across the state," Fukuto said.
-- Kelly Burgess
Photo: The Davey's Locker sportfishing boat Western Pride makes its way back to Newport Beach at sunset. Credit: Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times