By Pete DupuySunday, March 22, 2009
Beach closures for failing water quality have become fairly common in Southern California, especially during the rainy season. That’s when accumulated pesticides, herbicides, road runoff, bacteria and other assorted water pollutants are flushed out of watersheds and into coastal waters where swimmers, surfers and fishermen abound.
Unfortunately, Ventura County beaches are no stranger to these conditions. The little signs over storm drains aren’t fibbing when they warn about flowing to the ocean.
During wet-season sampling last year, beaches near the mouths of the Ventura and Santa Clara rivers sometimes indicated a water quality report card grade of “F,” according to Heal the Bay, which reports on regular beach-water testing.
That’s why local Ventura and Southern California fishermen are raising the pollution issue in conjunction with the race to make new no-fishing zones along our beaches and reefs. The rush to place large swaths of coastal access off-limits to fishing has no comparable effort in the water-quality improvement arena, so there’s now a golden opportunity in the current process to address this important ocean-health indicator.
In this new era of ecosystem management, we can no longer afford to put new regulations in place that do not address the cumulative coastal water pollution issue. These new proposed regulations must do double-duty and incorporate protection for water quality as they protect ocean life from harvest.
Recent polls indicate that Californians agree new regulations should create environmental benefit versus putting small family fishermen out of business or further restricting access for recreation and local-caught seafood.
But so far, officials in charge of the implementation of the Marine Life Protection Act — which will be finalized for Southern California later this year — have turned a blind eye to the pollution problem, tacitly condoning runoff of pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers, city street waste, industrial wastes and other accumulating pollutants that continue to flow into our coastal waters.
Apparently, only adding more no-fishing regulations will magically create healthy oceans. But, back to reality, if pollution is not addressed, the negative consequences will continue to add up, as many scientific indicators now show.
A recent study at CSU Long Beach showed that California sea lions have high levels of DDT and PCBs, both of which were banned decades ago but linger in waters and sediments.
Another recent study showed that mixtures of commonly used pesticides at concentrations found in local waters can be lethal to salmon and steelhead — and presumably many other types of fish — at low levels where any single one of the pesticides are not lethal.
But let’s not lay all the blame on the use of pesticides. After all, Ventura is proud of its agricultural heritage — growers in just the Santa Clara River watershed alone sell over a billion dollars worth of products a year, and the Ventura River watershed is likewise very productive. Much of this productivity is reliant upon the regular application of pesticides and herbicides.
We must work together to formulate a comprehensive and equitable plan to address ocean protection. To that end, local recreational and commercial fishermen have been working cooperatively with other interested groups to arrive at an agreement on a network of reserves that promotes ocean health and fishing areas simultaneously. Marine reserves can be used to benefit coastal ocean water quality and sustainable fisheries at the same time.
That’s why we’re urging all stakeholders to join with fishermen and make our collective voices heard. Without good water-quality protections, restrictive marine reserves will do little for the overall health of our coastal waters.
Hopefully, the governor-appointed representatives of the Marine Life Protection Act’s Blue Ribbon Task Force will recognize this critically important point and make the right choices for water quality as the marine reserves process moves forward in Southern California.
— Pete Dupuy of Tarzana owns Ventura Fish Company in Ventura. He has fished commercially for shrimp, prawns, swordfish, albacore and other pelagic species for more than 40 years in Southern California waters, out of Ventura Harbor for the last 25.