A federal judge has rejected an environmental group's attempt to require the government to lower its catch limits on sardines, mackerel and other forage fish off the California coast.
The organization, Oceana, claimed that the plan approved by the National Marine Fisheries Service in 2010 was based on flawed data and allowed fishing at levels that would deplete offshore populations of several species. Those fish are part of the food chain for other fish, seabirds and whales.
But U.S. District Judge Edward Chen of San Francisco said Friday that the federal agency had simply reaffirmed, or in some cases tightened, the harvesting limits it had set for the same forage species in 2000.
Chen ordered the fisheries service to reconsider its catch levels for one species, the northern anchovy, saying the agency had reopened that subject in 2010 but failed to determine the limits needed to protect the fish. That decision is required, he said, by a 1976 conservation law designed to prevent overfishing.
But Chen said it was too late to challenge the rules the agency had established in 2000 - and reaffirmed in 2010 - for the Pacific sardine, the Pacific mackerel, the jack mackerel and the market squid. Oceana also challenged the fisheries service's conclusion that its 2010 plan would cause no ecological harm and that a full environmental study was therefore not required. But the judge said the 2010 plan "by its very terms has no negative impact."
The California Wetfish Producers Association said the ruling was important for fisheries based in Monterey Bay and several Southern California ports. Those fisheries are closely monitored by the federal and state governments and have one of the lowest harvest rates in the world, the association said.
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