Increased protection for Pacific groundfish


SAN FRANCISCO An appeals court ruled Wednesday that the
federal government must increase protections for the Pacific fish
species commonly known as red snapper, whose population has been
depleted by overfishing.

The decision by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reverses a
lower court ruling that the National Marine Fisheries Service did
not violate federal law when it boosted fishing quotas for the
species, the darkblotched rockfish.

In 2002, conservation groups sued the fisheries service,
alleging that its violated the law by raising fishing quotas for
darkblotched rockfish by nearly 30 percent even though it knew the
species was severely overfished.

On Wednesday, the San Francisco-based court sided with the
environmentalists, calling the 2002 quota "patently
unreasonable." Quotas for darkblotched rockfish have stayed the
same or risen over the past three years.

The three-judge panel said federal law requires the government
to give conservation of fisheries priority over the short-term
economic interests of fishing communities.

"Without immediate efforts at rebuilding depleted fisheries,
the very long-term survival of those fishing communities is in
doubt," the court wrote.

The court sent the case back to the lower court to decide what
measures the fisheries service must take to protect darkblotched

Environmentalists were pleased with the decision.

"Strong protections for overfished species not only help the
fish, but they also help the long-term economics of the fishing
industry," said Drew Caputo, an attorney for the Natural Resources
Defense Council, one of the plaintiffs.

The National Marine Fisheries Service was disappointed in the
ruling, but was encouraged that "the court sees we have some
flexibility in considering the economic needs of fishing
communities," said spokesman Brian Gorman.

The appeals court upheld the lower court's decision on fishing
quotas for three other groundfish species.