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Friday, October 07, 2011
Update: Judge delays decision on lawsuit

Breaking news!: Judge delivers blow to lawsuit

MLPA Challenge Suffers Setback in Court

WON Staff Writer

SAN DIEGO — On Monday, San Diego Superior Court Judge Ronald S. Prager dealt the legal challenge against the privately funded Marine Life Protection Act a sharp blow.

Confirming his tentative order of Oct. 6, Prager rejected arguments brought by angler advocates United Anglers of California, Coastside Fishing Club and Robert C. Fletcher that the Fish and Game Commission exceeded its statutory authority when it approved new marine protected areas in Northern California.

Fletcher, past president of the Sportfishing Association of California, was undaunted by the setback. “As we all are, I’m very disappointed the judge didn’t appear to understand the arguments we made. We still stand by those arguments,” he said. Fletcher further told the Union-Tribune’s Mike Lee that an appeal is under consideration. “We think our case was very solid,” he added.

The ruling did not directly affect planned South Coast MLPA closures, now set for a January 1, 2012 implementation. The UASC lawsuit originally targeted both the northern California and south coast regions, but the lawsuit was split as the south coast start date continually slipped, making the legal challenge premature.   

It was the first court setback for the effort to hold the state accountable for a marine reserve planning process that singles out fishermen but does nothing to halt damage to the marine environment caused by sewer outfalls and industrial uses. Previously, Fletcher decisively prevailed when he sued for access to meeting agendas, emails and other records generated during the MLPA planning process. The so-called Blue Ribbon Task Force had argued they were immune to laws designed to protect the public from secretive, back-room dealings. The court found otherwise, compelling the BRTF to release communications that demonstrate a pervasive pattern of closed-door wheeling and dealing – some would say at the behest of the MLPA’s private funders, the Resources Legacy Trust Fund Foundation.

"From the outset, it was clear that the MLPA process was set up to reach a predetermined outcome under the fiction of an allegedly open and transparent process," Fletcher previously told WON.

Anglers continue to mobilize resources for the legal battle. In response to a $50,000 challenge grant from the American Sportfishing Association, Okuma, Coastside members and sportfishing pioneer Ingrid Poole each pledged $10,000 to the Ocean Access Protection Fund, and Fletcher poured in another $1,000.

"We're in this fight to the end. We're working hard on behalf of recreational and commercial fishermen who don't agree with the MLPA and the decisions of the Fish and Game Commission. We'd like all the help we can get to continue the battle," Fletcher said.

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