Reasons for Exemption
Section 15306 of the CEQA Guidelines (Class 6) provides a categorical exemption for information collection projects that consists of basic data collection, research, experimental management, and resource evaluation activities which do not result in a serious or major disturbance to an environmental resource. The section goes on to note that these information collection projects may be strictly for information gathering purposes, or as part of a study leading to an action which a public agency has not yet approved, adopted, or funded.
The project is a limited term study under the EFP Program to evaluate the effectiveness and feasibility of new commercial fishing methods to help reduce bycatch and/or habitat impact. The project proposes testing of deep-set buoy gear (both standard and linked) and night-set buoy gear (both standard and linked) to harvest swordfish, Pacific bluefin tuna, opah, common thresher shark, and other highly migratory species in California state waters around the Channel Islands and in limited areas off the mainland (Ventura, Los Angeles and Orange counties). All fishing activity would occur outside of existing marine protected areas. While the proposed project activities are currently prohibited under state fishing laws (Fish and Game Code sections 8603, 9025.5, and 9028), the purpose of the EFP is to gather information for improving fisheries management or expanding fishing opportunities in the state by allowing researchers and fishers to engage in commercial or recreational marine fishing activities that are otherwise prohibited. All activities conducted under the EFP must comply with the terms and conditions placed on the permit for research purposes and the conservation and management of marine resources and the environment. As such, the proposed EFP project is the proper subject of CEQA’s Class 6 categorical exemption.
The Commission does not believe reliance on the Class 6 categorical exemption to approve the permit under CEQA is precluded by the exceptions set forth in CEQA Guidelines Section 15300.2. Initial Commission staff review was guided by the California Supreme Court’s recent decision in Berkeley Hillside Preservation v. City of Berkeley. Staff reviewed all of the available information in its possession relevant to the issue and does not believe authorizing the permit poses any unusual circumstances that would constitute an exception to the cited categorical exemption. Even if there were unusual circumstances, which the Commission does not believe is the case, no potentially significant effects on either a project-specific or cumulative basis are expected from this project.
Furthermore, all activities authorized under the EFP Program are specifically prohibited from adversely impacting any established fisheries, marine living resources, or other natural resources under the provisions of Fish and Game Code Section 1022. Therefore, the exceptions set forth in CEQA Guidelines Section 15300.2 that would preclude the use of the categorical exemption do not apply and no further review is required.