The Center for Biological Diversity is hopeful its lawsuit filed over whale and sea turtle entanglements is nearing its conclusion after a federal judge suggested she may find the California Department of Fish and Wildlife liable for the entanglements, a center spokesman said.
“The judge said she was inclined to grant our motion and find the department liable for allowing these illegal whale entanglements,” spokesman Steve Jones said Friday after the hearing in United States District Court for the Northern District of California. “So the department’s lawyer asked her to delay that ruling for two weeks to see if our settlement talks can arrive at a remedy to the problem.”
The two parties have until March 13 to work out their differences and report back to the judge. If no settlement is reached, the judge will issue a finding.
The Center for Biological Diversity sued the state Department of Fish and Wildlife in October 2017, when the number of whale entanglements was skyrocketing. The peak came in 2016 when there were 71 confirmed whale entanglements.
The Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations is a defendant-intervenor in the case and is not taking a position on the liability issue that will be decided in the coming weeks, but is a part of the ongoing talks.
“We are engaging on behalf of the fleet in other factual aspects of the case as they arise and in settlement discussions so we don’t lose any of the progress we’ve made, which has been substantial,” said Noah Oppenheim, executive director of the fishermen’s group. “Fishermen have been doing the hard work necessary to minimize entanglements and promote whale-safe fisheries through voluntary and regulatory measures.”
“To date, to my knowledge, there have been zero entanglements in the Dungeness crab fishery in 2018, the period since major regulatory changes were enacted via state law,” Oppenheim added. “This is a big deal because it indicates that the working group and its risk assessment and mitigation program is working. Throughout this whole process, we can’t lose sight of the fact that fishermen, scientists, and environmentalists came together and put together the most progressive science-based progress of its kind in the country. It would be a shame if we lose our momentum, or worse, were forced to throw all of this progress out the window because of the lawsuit.”