Paul Wellman (file)

A judge has dismissed the lawsuit filed to keep the “no otter zone” intact in Southern California waters, deciding that any challenge to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife’s authority to eliminate the zone — which the federal agency did in 2012 — should have been filed within six years of the associated policy’s creation in 1987. The lawsuit, brought by the Pacific Legal Foundation on behalf of a coalition of fishing organizations, ultimately sought more protections for fishermen who will be impacted by the southward spread of the sea otter, which is likely to decimate shellfish populations and their commercial fisheries in the decades to come.

“Obviously, we think the judge’s decision is wrong,” said PLF attorney Jonathan Wood, whose sole option, as detailed by the judge, is to pursue an Administrative Procedure Act petition to rescind relevant parts of the 1987 rule. “Since the dismissal took place so recently, the fishermen are still considering their options to appeal.”

Sea otter advocates, meanwhile, are hopeful this will be a lasting victory. “As intervenors in this lawsuit on the side of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Friends of the Sea Otter are pleased that the case has been dismissed,” said Jim Curland of the Friends group. “U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service correctly decided to end the no otter zone in December 2012, and now is the time to allow the species to expand throughout its natural range so it can achieve full recovery.”


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