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Federal fish stocking lawsuit dismissed

A wilderness advocacy organization's lawsuit targeting the California Department of Fish and Wildlife will not go to trial following its dismissal in federal court. The lawsuit accused the agency of violating the Clean Water Act by artificially stocking several bodies of water with fish via airplane and packstock. The claim asserted that this method of fish restocking should require the California Department of Fish and Wildlife to obtain permits under the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System of the Clean Water Act. An organization known as Wilderness Watch and a private resident of Northern California were listed as co-plaintiffs.

According to the lawsuit, which was filed by an attorney with the Oregon-based Western Environmental Law Center, the state's method of stocking fish has the potential to substantially change the affected water bodies' nutrient levels, spark massive changes to their food systems and put their amphibian populations at risk for devastating disease.

Among the plaintiffs' primary claims was the contention that water released along with the fish could inadvertently introduce invasive species into the water bodies and thereby violate federal law prohibiting the addition of pollutants to public waters. The Department of Fish and Wildlife disputed this assertion, arguing that the plaintiffs failed to accompany their accusations with appropriate documentation. It also cited a precedent established by a previous circuit court ruling. In that case, the court found that "biological materials" as defined by the Clean Water Act refers specifically to waste produced by humans or industry. Therefore, the water released by the Department of Fish and Wildlife is not considered unlawful under the Clean Water Act.

An official with the Department of Fish and Wildlife criticized the plaintiffs' decision to pursue action through civil litigation rather than the "public process." He added that the agency considers the ruling a victory while acknowledging that an appeal could have dramatic implications on the fish stocking programs of the western United States.

Lake County News, "Federal court dismisses case alleging state fish stocking program violates Clean Water Act" Elizabeth Larson, Nov. 19, 2013

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