Ventura, CA; May 9, 2022: On Friday, Max Williams — a third-generation California fisherman — filed a lawsuit against the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) challenging the department’s refusal to grant his permit transfer application for gillnets for fishing.

California adopted a moratorium on new gillnet and trammel net permits beginning in 1985. But the law specifically preserved the ability for existing permits to be transferred. CDFW’s interpretation of the law violates the statute, and without a permit, Williams loses his ability to earn a living in the trade that he loves.

“The California Department of Fish and Wildlife is unlawfully threatening the way of life for fishermen like Max Williams,” said Pacific Legal Foundation attorney Frank Garrison. “When the California voters passed a moratorium on new gillnet and trammel net permits, they preserved a means for families like the Williamses to continue in the industry via permit transfers. The department doesn’t have the authority to interpret its regulations in direct conflict with the law.”

For decades, CDFW followed the text of the California Fish and Game Code and authorized permit transfers to fishermen who, like Max, had never held a permit but were otherwise qualified. Now the department insists that permit transfer applicants demonstrate certain skills that are illegal without the permit they are applying for. This regulatory Catch-22 makes it impossible for gillnet or trammel net users to break into the fishing industry.

The case is Williams v. California Dept. of Fish and Wildlife, filed in California Superior Court in Ventura County.


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Pacific Legal Foundation is a national nonprofit law firm that defends Americans threatened by government overreach and abuse. Since our founding in 1973, we challenge the government when it violates individual liberty and constitutional rights. With active cases in 34 states plus Washington, D.C., PLF represents clients in state and federal courts, with 17 wins of 19 cases litigated at the U.S. Supreme Court.

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