Monday, March 16, 2009

Impact of MLPA on Fishermen

Easy Reader - The South Bay's Hometown News

Harbor Lights

Livelihood versus lively bay

by Harry Munns

Fear has begun to spread among people in southern California who make their living from fishing. Some of them see the gap between their lifestyles and the can collector’s lifestyle getting uncomfortably narrow, through no fault of their own.

Says Gary Lacroix, a sportfishing operator in King Harbor, “The restrictions that are proposed basically prohibit any take. That means a diver can’t dive for lobsters. You can’t spear fish. Commercial fishermen cannot fish. A 10 year old kid can’t drop a line off the end of the pier.”

He’s talking about the California Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA). The 1999 regulation, “Required the state to evaluate and/or re-design all existing state marine protected areas (MPAs) and to potentially create new MPAs that, to the extent possible, will act as a network.”

Most of the handful of MPAs along this part of the coast are out near Catalina.

Between 1999 to 2004 the DFG attempted to implement the MLPA on two different occasions. They hadn’t anticipated the push-back from various stakeholders including commercial and recreational fishing interests. Both attempts failed.

Like a strain of bacteria that adapts to antibiotic treatments, the people and organizations that support the MLPA learned from their mistakes and came back prepared for resistance. The current assault calls itself the MLPA Initiative. Defining itself as a public-private partnership, the Initiative has gone to great lengths to include most of the obvious stakeholders.

A group called the Blue Ribbon Task Force will take input from the South Coast Regional Stake Holder’s Group and make a recommendation to the state Fish and Game Commission. But the real power to implement change may lie with a third panel of experts called the Science Advisory Team.

Suppose a fisherman or a group of fishermen who qualify for representation in the stakeholders group make a case for a fishery closures threatening their livelihood. They’d get a sympathetic ear from those higher up on the regulatory food chain.

Then suppose science advisor Dr. Somebody, PhD from UC Somewhere explained that the same areas needed to be closed to protect some element or elements of the environment. Who’s going to win that fight?

Annie Reisewitz a spokesperson for the MLPA Initiative said, “We’re in the process of redesigning the MPAs using input from stakeholders and the scientific community.” She has the calm, re-assuring tone of the captain of the Titanic announcing that the iceberg tour will be leaving from the lifeboat deck in 15 minutes.

In another time facing another adversary, the state’s current financial crisis might have given the fishermen some hope for a reprieve. The Initiative seems to have anticipated this prospect. Their funding comes from non-governmental sources such as the Resource Legacy Foundation and the National Marine Sanctuary Program. Apparently, California can wind up in bankruptcy court without forcing the MPLA Initiative to take even one Friday off without pay.

Fishermen recognize, perhaps better than most other groups, the need to protect the environment from which they derive their livelihoods. The fact they’re included in the debate gives them some encouragement and hope for an equitable outcome.

That doesn’t change the feeling among fishermen that they’re being singled out as the easiest targets among the potential remedies for environmental problems. The Department of Fish and Game cites three human activities that impact marine ecosystems — coastal development, water pollution and fishing. “They’re identifying what they claim needs protection to enhance the overall ecosystem but the only real thing they’re doing is prohibiting take, prohibiting diving, fishing, anything that will take anything out of the ocean,” Lacroix said.

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