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Environmental Groups Sue Fisheries

April 11, 2002

GRANTS PASS, Ore. (AP) _ Two environmental groups have sued the National Marine Fisheries Service alleging it is not adequately protecting Pacific groundfish from being overfished.

Groundfish have historically been an important component of West Coast commercial and sport fisheries, providing steady catches when other species, such as salmon, declined.

The fisheries service oversees commercial fishing in the ocean.

In 2000, the government declared the Pacific groundfish fishery a disaster after the agency found seven different species were dangerously overfished. Congress appropriated $5 million in disaster relief.

Legislation to appropriate $50 million to buy out half the 500 commercial groundfish permits has languished.

``The Pacific groundfish fishery is crashing because NMFS has done an inadequate job managing the fishery and protecting the fish,″ Drew Caputo, attorney for Natural Resources Defense Council, said Wednesday from San Francisco. Oceana is also a plaintiff in the lawsuit, filed Friday in federal court in San Francisco.

Since 2001, Natural Resources Defense Council has filed and won two other lawsuits over groundfish, forcing the fisheries service to give the public a greater voice in making management decisions.

Agency spokesman Brian Gorman said he could not comment on pending litigation, but added that the agency had acted on behalf of fish and fishermen when it declaring whiting, a staple of the Pacific commercial fleet used to make artificial crab, overfished and ordered a 32 percent cut in harvests.

``We did what I think in the long term will benefit both fishermen and the fish,″ Gorman said.

Gorman added that fisheries management has historically struggled with poor data on just how many fish were really in the ocean, but as the quality of data is improving, so is overall management.

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