Friday, May 29, 2009

Letter to Ken Wiseman and Don Benninghoven....

Dear Ken and Don,

I just wanted to write you this note to say that I am extremely gratified and pleased regarding the positive result of External Proposal A receiving the full 64 votes last Thursday. I believe this
result reflects the extremely hard work that all of the authors of External A in the Fisheries Information Network devoted to come up with a viable cross-interest proposal. As you know, I had a small part in crafting this proposal.

On the other hand, External Proposal C received only 29 votes, less than half of the RSG votes. This proposal appears to be a somewhat one-sided and myopic proposal. From the onset, with its original iteration, Proposal C has been unrealistic and callous. The authors have not attempted to reach out to opposing interests for compromise.

I was a steady observer of the Topaz gem group. That proposal was the product of heart-felt soul-searching and wrenching compromise. Now that proposal will be put on an equal footing with the unsupported and uncompromising External C proposal. This must certainly be a terrible disappointment to the hard working members of both Opal and Topaz gem
groups who took the I-team's and the BRTF's direction to heart to find compromise. I am deeply concerned that this decision will harden hearts and promote division in the SCRSG.

As you may know, I have stuck to my post and to my commitment to the MLPA process through considerable distraction as my mother lay on her death bed. I did this, believing that she would have wanted me to do so, as she was a dedicated biologist that loved our California Coast. Now I am faced with the regret that all of my and my colleagues work was in vain, due to this last minute decision that threw out, on an apparent whim, the I-Team and the BRTF's former direction.

I hope that you and the BRTF will answer my concerns and inform me why I should continue my efforts on behalf of the Marine Life Protection Act.

With respect, I submit this as a request to explain what appears to be a breach in good faith by the "powers that be" and to request why I should continue to expect fair and equal treatment by the Blue Ribbon Task Force and the I-Team.

Respectfully yours,

Captain Louie Zimm
Scripps Institution of Oceanography (retired)

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Investigation of Fish & Game Commission Member Begins

by Dan Bacher

The California Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) disclosed on May 19 that its Enforcement Division has opened a formal investigation into conflict of interest charges against Fish and Game Commissioner George Michael Sutton regarding his votes on the implementation of the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) .

"This action is in response to the sworn complaint against Sutton filed by the Central Coast Fisheries Conservation Coalition (CCFCC) and the CCFCC fully supports the FPPC action," according to a statement from Mel de la Motte, the CCFCC President.

CCFCC is charging Sutton with violating the Political Reform Act (PRA) of 1974 because of his conflicts of interest on votes on the MLPA while serving on the Fish and Game Commission.

The investigation is taking place at a time when recreational anglers, commercial fishermen, sustainable seeweed harvesters, grass roots environmentalists and elected officials across the political spectrum are charging the Schwarzenegger administration with conflict of interest, mission creep and lack of transparency in its fast track implementation of the MLPA.

"The CCFCC has more aggressive legal avenues to pursue if Commissioner Sutton does not resign," said de la Motte. "Such measures could result in civil money damages against Sutton, but we are hopeful that he will do the right thing for California."

Specifically, de la Motte said Sutton's action in voting to approve the Draft Master Plan of the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) violated the PRA because "it was reasonably foreseeable that the decision would have a material financial effect on his own income and on his employer and source of income, the Monterey Bay Aquarium Foundation (Aquarium). As Vice President and founding director of the Aquarium's Center For the Future of the Oceans, Sutton is paid a salary to influence policy and to support efforts to create a network of marine protected areas (MPAs) in California and offshore waters, including fully protected marine reserves."

Had Sutton voted to amend the existing MPAs for the Central Coast (which are included in the Master Plan), he would have been voting to gut or weaken a system of MPAs in which, his employer exults, the Center for the Future of the Oceans, under his stewardship, played a "key role" in having adopted, noted de la Motte.

"Sutton's conflicts do not derive solely from the mere fact that he is a salaried employee of the Aquarium," stated de la Motte. "He is in fact closely connected to many of the key players involved in the process of implementing the MLPA and these connections create conflicts under the Political Reform Act (See Chart)."

De la Motte said that Sutton also violated the Fish and Game Commission's own conflict code by failing to disclose as required by law his employment with the Aquarium.

"Sutton's participation in any Fish and Game Commission decision relating to MPAs or to the establishment of limitations on fishing is prohibited under the PRA and a cease and desist order must be issued restraining Sutton from participating in such decisions," he added.

Prominent politicians, including Senator Majority Leader Dean Florez (D-Shafter), North Coast Assemblyman Wes Chesbro (D-Arcata), and grass roots environmental activists are challenging the legitimacy of Schwarzenegger’s fast track MLPA Process in light of “mission creep” and conflict of interest charges.

Florez in March that he and other Senators plan to ask some “very tough” questions of Chrisman and Mike Sutton, Fish and Game Commission member, about the MLPA process in an upcoming Senate hearing (no date has been set yet.) These questions include why the MLPA has been expanded from a $250,000 process to a $35 million fiasco that is threatening the economy and fisheries on the North Central Coast.

Other conflicts of interest that fishermen, seaweed harvesters and grassroots environmental activists are urging to be investigated include:

• The role of Catherine Reheis-Boyd, CEO and Chief of Staff for the Western States Petroleum Association, a member of the five-member MLPA Blue Ribbon Task Force. John Lewallen, longtime North Coast environmentalist and seaweed harvester, asks, "Is it coincidence that the Point Arena Basin offshore from Point Arena is the area of highest oil industry interest in Northern California, and the only tract here now open to Minerals Management Service offshore oil leasing process?"

• the role of the Resources Legacy Fund Foundation, a private organization, in funding the MLPA process.

• The role that Gordon Smith, the former President and CEO of the Pacific Gas and Electric Company, plays on the Resources Legacy Fund Foundation Board. Does he have a vested interest in removing from North Central Coast waters the most vocal opponents of PG&E's wave energy schemes - fishermen and seaweed harvesters?

Patrick Higgins, 5th Division commissioner of the Humboldt Bay Harbor, Recreation and Conservation District and one of the most respected fishery scientists in California, wrote an op-ed in the Eureka Times-Standard on May 21 slamming Schwarzenegger's MLPA process. "I am both a scientist and a conservationist and favor ocean protection, but the MLPA process is not science-based and, therefore, there is no guarantee that it will achieve its conservation objectives," he stated.

Higgins takes aim at the Blue Ribbon MLPA Task Force, calling it a "corruption of the democratic process."

"This task force was not established by the legislature when they passed the MLPA," said Higgins. "It is comprised of foundation CEOs, offshore oil interests, marina developers and other friends of Governor Schwarzenegger and has been inserted into the process through a memorandum of understanding (MOU) between CDFG and OPC. This is a corruption of the democratic process that North Coast communities will be protesting to legislators, whose intent is being thwarted."

For more information, call Mel de la Motte, President of the CCFCC, 805-544-2424.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Will the State Budget Mess Affect Marine Protected Areas?

Vern Goehring, May 22, 2009

Everyone has heard about the terrible budget problems facing the State.

Voters earlier this week rejected all of the measures the Governor and Legislators placed on the ballot to resolve the mess. The Governor estimates that the rejection will result in a $21 billion shortfall in the current and next year budget. The Legislative Analyst reported yesterday the deficit may actually be $24 billion.

The Governor was quick to respond to the drubbing his budget proposals took. He recognizes that the public wants elected officials to do their job responsibly. He said, “We went in the wrong direction. Now let’s go in the right direction. Let’s do what the people want…. Go out and make those cuts and live within (our) means.”

The Legislature was also quick to react. It appointed a special conference committee of Senate and Assembly members, Republicans and Democrats, to begin looking in every cupboard and behind every door for anything that can be cut or reduced.

Interest groups of all kinds are worried that their favorite ongoing program or service will be eliminated. They are preparing strategies to head off efforts to cut them out of the State’s budget.

But what about programs that will have large costs, but are not yet underway? Is anyone looking at those to prevent unfunded mandates from even getting started?

When most people think of unfunded mandates they think of the Legislature adopting bills with huge costs, but no money. While not perfect, the Legislature has several mechanisms to head this off: fiscal committees and fiscal staff to identify costs, the Department of Finance to estimate the cost of legislation and the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst to be available to help. And it does this twice – once in the Senate and once in the Assembly.

If the Legislature misses an unfunded mandate, the Governor has the final word and often vetoes bills because of it.

The Fish & Game Commission, however, has no such checks and balances. It has no fiscal staff or fiscal committee; it has no second entity reviewing its actions. It doesn’t even normally concern itself with the implementation costs of its actions. When the Commission adopts a regulation, it takes effect whether there is funding to carry it out or not.

Pending before the Fish & Game Commission is the adoption of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs).

Numerous studies in recent years have set the full cost of managing MPAs in the $30-60 million range. The Department of Fish & Game recently estimated costs at $35-55 million annually once MPAs are created throughout the State.

Of course proponents of MPAs, with the Administration’s help, are ridiculing the estimate and promising that private money will come forward in the future to adequately manage MPAs. If your objective is to shut down fishing that may be acceptable, but if your objective is to conserve marine species - monitoring and management would be nice.

Deciding to not create an MPA unfunded mandate is within the authority of the Fish & Game Commission and the Governor. Will they do the right thing and not create more demands on a shrinking pool of resources. Will they actually hear what the voters said? Or will they move forward with a new program that costs far more than anyone ever anticipated. Will the Governor actually try to “live within our means?”

The Governor really wants a map of MPAs to take with him when he leaves office. But will he choose to dump yet another budget problem on the next Governor?

The answer to that question is also the answer to the title question.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Politics is a poor way to manage our Marine reserves

Watsonville Register-Pajaronian
Thursday, May 21st, 2009

Californians concerned about protecting our ocean should pay attention to the ongoing Marine Life Protection Act process that’s supposed to improve ocean health, biodiversity and marine ecosystems off the coast of California.

Because, so far, those goals aren’t being met.

That’s because the implementation of the act has failed to address, much less resolve, longstanding, serious water-quality problems and has simply given the illusion of protection by opting for the low-hanging fruit of shutting down fishing. During the Central Coast portion of this ocean-protection process, comprehensive and scientifically based recommendations on how to implement the mandated marine protected areas were effectively ignored.

The way the act was implemented in Monterey illustrates important mistakes that, if recognized by the leadership and corrected, can make the upcoming efforts much more effective in preserving and protecting our ocean. We all know that people come to Monterey, and many other coastal communities, to eat fresh, locally caught seafood and to enjoy the uniqueness of our fishing culture, like Cannery Row. We have a deep heritage of commercial and recreational fishing, which supports Monterey’s larger tourism industry.

But the effort to carve out ocean areas for new fishing restrictions along the Central Coast has unfortunately rejected a comprehensive approach to achieve sustainability goals. The resulting negative impact on the fishing community has made it more costly and dangerous to catch fish. And it’s hurt our broader economy at a time when we can least afford it. In 1995, there were more than 150 commercial fishing boats operating out of Monterey’s harbor, but in the last few years, that number has decreased drastically. There are now only about 30 full-time boats and just 73 in total.

And that number is expected to drop even more. As Monterey’s harbormaster, I’ve seen firsthand how local fishermen are dispirited — and even put out of business — because the implementation process didn’t value their needs or their safety. It didn’t value the food they provide to the public, much less their recommendations for how to achieve ocean protection and maintain viable fishing communities.

The political process has taken away a large percentage of the prime fishing grounds from recreational and commercial fishermen based on the beliefs of a few marine-protection advocates, rather than a need founded in peer-reviewed science or supported by broad-based public opinion. Although recently improved, officials originally didn’t see value in appointing a balanced scientific team — one that reflected the diversity of all scientific disciplines and perspectives. But the imbalance favoring expansive restrictions remains intact in the guidelines for determining the size and spacing of new marine protected areas.

Further, an inherent conflict of interest hasn’t been recognized or addressed. Many of these same scientific team members who provide advice are also stakeholders, having a great deal to benefit for themselves and their careers by the creation of no-fishing zones near their institutions.

What’s more, there’s been no coordination or effort to integrate existing federally and state-protected areas into the new plan. The resulting marine protected areas’ size and spacing guidelines provide few alternatives to any other stakeholders — like fishermen. This results in redundancy, but little environmental benefit, and that’s certainly not what Californians want.

A 2007 poll for the Alliance of Communities for Sustainable Fisheries shows that two-thirds of the public support small, independent fishermen and recreational fishing activities. Californians want smart management of marine ecosystems and fish resources, not total ocean closures that simply hurt local economies without delivering real environmental benefits.

When asked which is the better management strategy — to set aside some areas and not let people fish in those areas even if it means that fishing is displaced, or to manage all of the ocean for sustainable use through science-based fishing quotas — by a nearly 3-to-1 margin Californians selected the option for sustainable use of the entire ocean. That’s significant when compared with the way in which the Marine Life Protection Act has been implemented thus far.

California deserves better than this. As the Marine Life Protection Act moves into Southern California, and later Northern California, the implementation of this law needs to achieve a more balanced process, crafting fair, equitable solutions that preserve a balance: healthy oceans, sustainable seafood resources and economically strong coastal and harbor communities. Otherwise, we will see a steady destruction of harbor communities, along with our ability to enjoy the ocean and put fresh, local seafood on the table.


Steve Scheiblauer is Monterey’s Harbormaster and has been directly involved each of the state of California’s attempts to implement the Marine Life Protection Act, as well as other planning efforts for marine protected areas. The opinions of columnists are not necessarily those of the Register-Pajaronian.

Harbor District forms committee for ocean conservation planning

Eureka Times-Standard
Patrick Higgins

On the afternoon of May 11, the Humboldt Bay Harbor, Recreation and Conservation District conference room was filled to capacity for the kickoff meeting of a new committee aimed at developing a North Coast local-interest Marine Protected Area work group. The committee is being formed to bring together interests from Ft. Bragg to Crescent City so that we are well organized before the implementation of the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) scheduled for 2011.

The MLPA process will result in establishment of Marine Protected Areas (MPA) in our North Coast region, which extends from just north of Point Arena in Mendocino County to the Oregon border. Over the next 18 months you will read more as we try to set up a conservation strategy that protects the near shore ocean environment and its biodiversity, but also limits permanent closures of sport and commercial fisheries that are not based on scientific data.

The harbor district has an interest in helping coordinate North Coast stakeholders because of our charge to maintain ocean and bay related commerce for Humboldt County and because we manage the Shelter Cove harbor that could be severely impacted. Our commission hopes that through coordinated planning and political action across the region we can wield enough clout to prevent substantial and long-lasting damage to our economy and quality of life. I am both a scientist and a conservationist and favor ocean protection, but the MLPA process is not science-based and, therefore, there is no guarantee that it will achieve its conservation objectives.

The MLPA and imposition of MPAs does not prevent pollution to the ocean in areas like Southern California, but rather restricts fishing access as a method of protecting marine resources.

I would favor strategic closure of fish nursery areas, for example, because they can provide more bountiful and sustainable harvests in adjacent coastal areas. The problem is that the MLPA process does not fund acquisition of scientific data as a basis for sound planning and MPA design.

The criteria for MPA spacing is that they be no further than 60 miles from one another and comprise at least 3 square miles. A scientific peer review of some of North America's most esteemed fisheries management scientists found that prescriptions were pulled out of the air, based on intuitive reasoning about larval transport and adult movement distances.

The California Department of Fish and Game (CDFG) and Ocean Protection Council (OPC) work together to implement the MLPA and the ultimate decision is made by the Fish and Game Commission (FGC). There is political sleight of hand in the process, however, that gives undue influence to foundations that have an agenda to close coastal areas to consumptive use as a way of “saving” them. The foundations fund a lot of the public relations and MLPA process through the California Resources Legacy Fund Foundation (RLFF), but they also pack a statewide blue ribbon task force that shapes the final preferred alternative to be adopted by the FGC. This task force was not established by the Legislature when they passed the MLPA. It is comprised of foundation CEOs, offshore oil interests, marina developers and other friends of Governor Schwarzenegger and has been inserted into the process through a memorandum of understanding between CDFG and OPC. This is a corruption of the democratic process that North Coast communities will be protesting to legislators, whose intent is being thwarted.

The blue ribbon panel recently ignored the North Central Coast stakeholders' preferred alternative that was the product of over a year's work. Instead, the proposal now before the FGC would effectively shut down the Point Arena pier by closing productive rocky reefs to both the north and south in MPAs. This permanent closure of highly productive rock fishing grounds deprives this isolated and economically depressed community of one of its few sources of revenue and sustenance.

The North Coast community, like other Californians, overwhelmingly supports local, sustainable harvest of seafood and family-run fishing operations. These will be greatly diminished if MPAs are haphazardly designed. To read the scientific peer review of the MLPA methods and to learn more about why sport and commercial fishermen and coastal communities are concerned, visit the California Fisheries Coalition Web site at The next meeting of the MPA work group will be on June 1 in Eureka at a venue larger than the Harbor District's meeting room (check press announcements or online at

Patrick Higgins is the 5th Division commissioner of the Humboldt Bay Harbor, Recreation and Conservation District.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Save us from the recklessness of the righteous...

Open letter to President Obama, with a copy to Governor Schwartzenegger

Laird Durham
SF Boating Examiner

Dear President Obama,

Thank you for your decision to maintain a Bush Administration rule that saves us from the recklessness of the righteous.

In doing so, you put science and perspective ahead of the political lobbying muscle of environmentalists who insist that banning a cement plant in Georgia or shuttering a power plant in Minnesota will save polar bears.

Now please shine your light of common sense on California’s offshore waters, where environmentalists are trying to ban sport fishing from the most productive fishing holes. Without the science to show cause or correlation the environmentalists simply extol the righteousness of their case against the evils of sport fishing.

The environmentalists already have succeeded in persuading California legislators to pass a Marine Life Protection Act (Isn’t that a wonderfully righteous title? How can anyone but ogres oppose it?). Now they want to use the Act to establish Marine Protected Areas where sport fishing will be outlawed. Never mind that there are no scientific studies to show where the MPAs should be, nor how the MPAs will do a better job than the fishermen themselves -- whose self-interest is more beneficial to fish than the posturing of their so-called “protectors”.

California’s salt water sport fishermen generate $2.3 billion in economic output and provide $800 million worth of jobs for supporting businesses, many of them in small coastal communities that would be devastated by MPAs.

To paraphrase your Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, protection of the coastal environment requires comprehensive policies, not a patchwork of so-called protective reserves.

Thank you for whatever influences you or Mr. Salazar can extend to us.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Jim Kellogg Asks Commission to Put MLPA Process on Hold

by Dan Bacher

As the California Fish and Game Commission was hearing public testimony in Sacramento from anglers, environmentalists and scientists about Marine Protected Area (MPA) alternatives, Commission Member Jim Kellogg received word from the Governor’s office that Schwarzenegger was going to lay off 5,000 more state workers because of the state’s unprecedented budget crisis.

After the public comment period at Thursday's meeting concluded, Kellogg asked the Commission to request the State Legislature to put Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s fast track Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) process on hold in light of the economic crisis.

“We should appeal back to the Legislature to put the whole process on hold until the state gets back on its feet,” said Kellogg. “This would allow us time to see if the existing MPAs are working.”

Fellow Commissioner Richard Rogers objected that putting the process on hold would “invalidate” the thousands and thousands of hours of work that stakeholders and government officials have put into the process.

However, Kellogg responded that it was “irresponsible” to proceed with imposing new Marine Protected Areas when the Department of Fish and Game doesn’t have staff to enforce and manage its existing MPAs and fish and game laws.

“We are in the process of watching the state’s programs and services being gutted,” said Kellogg. “Where are we going to get the manpower for these MPAs? It is irresponsible to impose new costs on the state when we don’t have the funds for our existing programs.”

California has the worst game wardens per capita ratio of any state or Canadian province – only 192 in the field. This has attracted organized crime to poaching and contributed to a $100 million-plus a year black market in wildlife trafficking that has “dire consequences for salmon, striped bass, sturgeon, deer, abalone and many other species,” according to James and Andrew Swan’s documentary, “"Endangered Species: California Fish and Game Wardens.”

Earlier in the meeting Kellogg, the only remaining Davis administration appointee and a union leader, addressed the potentially devastating economic consequences of expanded MPAs on sustainable recreational anglers, commercial fishermen and seaweed harvesters already kicked off the water by draconian area closures, dramatically shortened fishing seasons and the banning of salmon fishing for the second year in a row.

In a lively discussion, other Commission members disagreed with Kellogg that a hold should be put on the MLPA Process. However, Kellogg then asked the Commission to send a letter to the Governor asking them how they were supposed to proceed with the process in light of the state’s unprecedented budget deficit. This they all agreed to.

“It is a real breakthrough that the Commission is planning to ask the Governor if the MLPA Process is possible with the available funding,” commented Jim Martin, West Coast Regional Director of the Recreational Fishing Alliance.

The Commission also agreed to support two amendments to the existing North Central Coast MLPA alternatives requested by sportfishing and diving groups.

During the public testimony, about 100 people testified in support different MPLA proposals.

About 60 percent of the public, including grass roots environmentalists, recreational fishermen, commercial fishermen and scientists, pleaded with the commission to adopt 2XA. Representatives of a diverse array of fishing and diving groups, including Coastside Fishing Club, the Recreational Fishing Alliance, Golden Gate Fisherman’s Association, and American Sportfishing Association spoke in support of this proposal. They argued that Proposal 2XA places MPAs in locations with a high level of conservation while minimizing the economic impact on local communities and still allowing anglers maximum access to fishing.

“2XA is the obvious choice,” said Dan Wohlford, science director of the Coastside Fishing Club and Pacific Fishery Management Council (PFMC) member. “It achieves a higher level of protection than other proposal, including the IPA (Integrated Preferred Proposal). It also has the least socioeconomic impact of any other proposal, including the IPA.”

Most of the other speakers argued for the Integrated Preferred Alternative (IPA), a more restrictive proposal not supported by fishing groups. Representatives of environmental NGOs, including the Ocean Conservancy, Natural Resources Defense Council, Save Our Shores and the Baykeeper, tried to convince the Commission to adopt this proposal, arguing that it would provide better protection for fish populations while allowing fishing and diving access.

“The IPA represents a good faith compromise. The support for this proposal runs board and deep," said Karen Garrison of the Natural Resources Defense Council, who praised the North Coast MLPA Process, and noted that the Commission had received over 10,000 letters in support of the IPA.

Conflict of Interest Charges Loom Over MLPA Process.

As the Fish and Game Commission was listening to testimony over which testimony to adopt, prominent politicians, including Senator Majority Leader Dean Florez (D-Fores) and Northern Coast Assemblyman Wes Chesbro (D-Arcata), are challenging the legitimacy of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s fast track MLPA Process in light of “mission creep” and conflict of interest charges.

Florez said he will conduct a Senate Oversight Hearing this year about conflict of interest and “mission creep” in the MLPA process. No time has been set for this hearing yet.

Flores said that he and other Senators plan to ask some “very tough” questions of Resources Secretary Mike Chrisman and Mike Sutton, Fish and Game Commission member, about MLPA process. These questions include why the MLPA has been expanded from a $250,000 process to a $35 million fiasco that is threatening the economy and fisheries on the North Central Coast.

Potential conflicts of interest that need to be investigated include:

• the role of The Resource Legacy Foundation, a private organization, in funding the MLPA process.

• the role of Michael Sutton, a Schwarzenegger-appointed member of the Fish and Game Commission. Sutton is employed by the Packard Foundation, which funds the Resource Legacy Foundation, the very organization that is funding the MLPA Process. Isn’t it a potential conflict of interest for a Commission Member to be making decisions that could benefit his employer? The Central Coast Fisheries Conservation Coalition has filed a complaint to the California Fair Political Practices Commission over this conflict of interest.

• The role of Catherine Reheis-Boyd, CEO and Chief of Staff for the Western States Petroleum Association, a member of the five-member MLPA Blue Ribbon Task Force. John Lewallen, longtime North Coast environmentalist and seaweed harvester, asks, "Is it coincidence that the Point Arena Basin offshore from Point Arena is the area of highest oil industry interest in Northern California, and the only tract here now open to Minerals Management Service offshore oil leasing process?"

• The role that Gordon Smith, the former President and CEO of the Pacific Gas and Electric Company, plays on the Resource Legacy Foundation Board. Does he have a vested interest in removing from North Central Coast waters the most vocal opponents of PG&E's wave energy schemes - fishermen and seaweed harvesters?

Could it be that Schwarzenegger’s MLPA process represents an attempt to kick the strongest defenders of our fisheries and the environment - sustainable recreational and commercial fishermen and seaweed harvesters - off the ocean to pave the way for offshore oil drilling, wave energy projects and corporate aquaculture?

Friday, May 15, 2009

Funding Woes May Interrupt Marine Act

Is cost of MLPA too rich for state?
By Ed Zieralski
San Diego Union-Tribune

May 15, 2009

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger could be getting a letter from the state Fish and Game Commission asking him to delay implementation of the Marine Life Protection Act because of lack of funding.
Commissioner Jim Kellogg proposed the idea yesterday at the commission's meeting in Sacramento. At first, Kellogg suggested a letter be sent to the Legislature, which in 1999 approved the MLPA – an integrated network of marine protected areas or no-fishing zones along California's coast.

“The governor announced today he's going to lay off another 5,000 state employees,” Kellogg said of California's budget crisis. “Maybe the commission can appeal to the Legislature to put this MLPA process on hold until the state gets on its feet again. That will give us much more opportunity to see if the existing marine protected areas work.”

Commissioners Kellogg and Dan Richards continue to question the funding of the marine protected areas. When the MLPA was passed by the Legislature, the cost listed for developing the network was $250,000, with another $250,000 a year for implementation. But the Department of Fish and Game has put the state's cost at between $30 million and $40 million a year for enforcement, monitoring and public outreach.

“It's irresponsible for us to put new costs on what we already fund,” Kellogg said. “At some point, someone has to take responsibility.”

Commissioners Richard Rogers and Michael Sutton opposed the letter or any delays in the MLPA process.

Commission President Cindy Gustafson compromised by agreeing to have the commission staff look into drafting a letter to the governor that addresses the concerns of Kellogg and Richards.
As fishing and environmental groups slug it out to reach an agreement on closures in the South Coast study region, the same sides battled yesterday over the North Central Coast region. The Central Coast already has a network of marine protected areas.

In the North Central Coast, fishing interests are backing a proposal called 2-XA that proponents say will have the least amount of economic impact on the fishing industry, particularly abalone, and the coastal communities.

Environmentalists and preservationists are aligned behind what is known as the Integrated Preferred Alternative, or IPA, which the Blue Ribbon Task Force is recommending the commission adopt.

Opponents say the IPA will have a greater impact than 2-XA on fishing and the coastal economy.
The Commission next meets June 24-25 in Woodland. It is expected to adopt a network of marine protected areas for the North Central Coast at its Aug. 5-6 meeting, also in Woodland.

Proposed Marine Preserves Could Eliminate Anglers

Jim Matthews, Outdoor Writer
San Bernadino Sun

A decade after the legislation was passed, the Marine Life Protection Act is now being hammered into shape for Southern California ocean waters, and there are no happy campers in the sport fishing community.

The MLPA could be described as designing a saltwater version of how public lands are managed to protect above-ocean natural resources. Since there are no "private" ocean waters, the plan will cover the entire marine region off the California coast and set up an all-encompassing framework on how to manage the state's portion of the Pacific and its resources.
Or, that's what it's supposed to do.

The 1999 legislation has six vague, wildly-open-to-interpretation goals that are supposed to guide the planning and eventual management process. Simply, the goals say the state needs to protect, recover and enhance our ocean resources.

But at every step of the way that process has been hijacked by the groups who repeatedly forget that man is a part of the marine environment and want to exclude us, except as passive observers. Sport fishermen have been the most unfairly-treated group in the process.

MLPA will create roughly the equivalent of a state or national park that excludes humans, normal state or national parks, and state or national wildlife refuge areas. All will be known as Marine Protected Areas, with different designations and rules. The marine designations are State Marine Reserves (the over-the-top version of a National Park), State Marine Parks (a normal state park), and State Marine Conservation Areas (a state wildlife area).

All areas outside the Marine Protected Areas will be the equivalent of National Forest or Bureau of Land Management lands, still subject to the existing rules and regulations of ocean resources.
The profound difference between the Marine Protected Areas and our above-ocean management of land-based resources is simple: sport fishermen are often entirely excluded.
Everyone understands why certain areas should be closed to commercial ocean fishing on a year-round or seasonal basis. That is an obvious resource issue.

Yet outside of this ocean planning process, there is literally no place where sport fishermen are excluded. And the reason is simple: If managed correctly with limits and gear restrictions, sport anglers never have had a negative impact on any fishery. Ever. Anywhere. Fresh- or saltwater. Apparently, though, no one in the planning process knows that fact.

Sport anglers will be excluded from State Marine Reserves, which generally are being proposed and placed in the most popular and best sport fishing areas along the coast. It just doesn't make sense, and there's no science to back up that exclusion.

With proper regulations, sport anglers will never have a significant negative impact. It strikes me as ironic that we can fish in National Parks, state parks and wildlife refuges. There might be gear restrictions and catch-and-release-only regulations, but at least we are not excluded.
We've been successfully using that model for more than 100 years. You'd think the MLPA planners would look at an example that works.

Jim Matthews' outdoors column and fish report runs on Friday. For more information, visit

Thursday, May 14, 2009

A call to save fishing spots from permanently closing

By George Van Zant, columnist


To all my faithful readers, I ask that you react to the following to help save the fishing spots we have been fishing for nearly 100 years.

Yesterday, my son Cal and two fishing buddies fished the Catalina white sea bass in a variety of well-known sea bass spots and yes, there were many sportfishing boats doing likewise.

They stopped at West Cove, Iron Bound Cove, Johnson's Rock and virtually every known spot around the west end of the island. They made their way down the front side of the island testing every fishing location known to the regulars and the flotilla of small sportboats that follow them around.

This could easily come to an end. If some groups get their way, all those traditional spots will be permanently closed to all fishing and diving. The United Anglers of Southern California and sport divers organization L.A. Fathomiers are teaming up to provide us local anglers and other water users with an understanding of the MLPA process and the real threat of closures.

The two groups are presenting free seminars to educate people to the situation. Dates for the free seminars are Saturday at 1 p.m. and Monday at 7 p.m.

Two seminars have gone by but there will be plenty of information at the two remaining sessions. Each event will be held at the Alamitos Bay Sportsmen's Club: 1933 Temple Ave, Signal Hill. Please call USASC's headquarters at (949) 863-9447 if you will attend.

Barracuda are still being caught by the San Diego sportboats and, last week for the first time, a few were caught by the Dana Point and Newport boats. The water temps are really warming up the area with a flood of 60-plus-degree water washing to as far as the east end of Catalina. The warm water has been slowly moving up to our area and when it gets here, the barries will jump on our hooks, unless the relentless wind continues.

The wind is keeping the off-shore and island fishing to a minimum. But those boats that ventured forth, wind or not, did very well catching some huge white sea bass. Both the MarDiosa and the Dreamer out of Pierpoint Landing have been scoring limits on the sea bass when they get by the wind.

Warm water = Barracuda White sea bass tourney

The sixth annual Yamaha/Won White Sea Bass Jackpot Tournament takes place this weekend at Two Harbors, Catalina Island.

Anglers will not target only white sea bass but many will fish for halibut and yellowtail as all the species qualify equally in Sunday's weigh in. You can still enter. Call Kit McNear at (949) 366-0030 ext. 27.

All you fishermen readers know that warm water at Catalina and the absence of wind cause the yellowtail and halibut to bite, especially if you have live squid for bait.

If squid is unavailable try catching some of those smelt that swim around your boat on the mooring or anchor. Throw bread in the water and when the blue-dart smelt crash the crumbs drop a very small "bait catcher" to hook them and throw them in the bait tank.

Island smelt are different than the ones swimming around in the local marinas. They are lightning fast and they are an unknown bait, one of the more unknown baits swimming around. The proof is in the pudding when all the old time veteran anglers can remember when sometimes these smelt were the only thing you could use or bait.

The hook size on the "bait catcher" has to be no more than a No. 12 to fit into the smelt's miniature mouth. P.S., yours truly owns the last of the smelt nets Jed Welsh began selling 50 years ago and they are a heck of a lot more productive than "bait catchers." If you can find one, grab it as they are the best at what they do. Meantime, any time you go to the island carry a loaf of bread with you.

Two major Mexico fishing tournaments are being rescheduled thanks to the swine flu situation. The International Government Cup Tournament scheduled for May 5-8 has been tentatively set for July 1-4 in Cabo San Lucas. The other is The 10 th Annual IGFA Off-Shore World Championship on May 10-15 rescheduled to Nov. 8-15, Cabo San Lucas.

The local lakes are heading into their warm water fishing times. Soon the lake waters will be too warm to support trout and plantings will cease. The trout-fishing finale can be really good when this happens.

As the water warms, the trout mass up in the deeper waters of the lake and bite like crazy. Most of the lakes remove the five fish-bag maximum because the trout cannot live through the warm water periods of summer. Last year, I fished Irvine Lake during this warm water period and caught all the trout I wanted at the dam where the deepest water area of the lake is located.

Some of the lakes that will offer all the trout you can catch with no limits are: Lake Irvine, Laguna Niguel and Santa Ana River Lakes. Basically those lakes that do not require a California Fishing License are the ones that eliminate the trout bag and possession limits. Give the lake a call for further info.

The 30-Minute Beach Clean Up will be Saturday at 10 a.m. Report to No. 1 Granada Ave beach parking lot (free). Those signed up to help by 10 a.m. will receive a free t-shirt. Complimentary refreshments will be offered at 10:30 for the helpers.

Controversy Stirs around the Marine Life Protection Act

by Christina Aanestad

A short interview with Dan Bacher, editor of the Fish Sniffer, a fishing publication, about the conflicts of interest with the Marine Life Protection Act. Bacher has identified several corporate interests he says are scapegoating fishing groups to potentially gain access to coastal resources.

Marine Life Protection Act, MLPA, is meant to establish conservation zones in sensitive coastal areas in California, but fishing groups say they’re being scapegoated by corporate interests. Listen to the interview for details, but here's a summary with additional info:

Dan Bacher is the editor of the Fish Sniffer, a fishing publication. He’s closely followed the MLPA process and says it was meant to protect California's coast from over fishing, pollution, offshore oil, and other threats to marine ecosystems, but the MLPA has changed to address overfishing, alone.

There are two types of zones under consideration in the MLPA, one would prohibit all maritime activity, and another would allow limited maritime use such as seasonal fishing and diving. But, Bacher says fishing groups are being scapegoated by corporate interests. According to Bacher a lead official with the Western States Petroleum Institute, an oil industry interest group, sits on the 5 member Blue Ribbon Commission on the MLPA. The commission is the primary oversight agency of the MLPA. Their favored proposal would ban maritime use off the Point Arena coast. Also known as the Point Arena basin, the Northern California area has several billion barrels of oil underground. Several oil companies including Conoco Phillips, BP and Shell have expressed interest in opening the Northern California coast to offshore oil and gas drilling.

Bacher says a private environmental foundation, the Research Legacy Foundation is funding what should be a public process. He adds, former CEO of PG&E Gordon Smith sits on the board of the Research Legacy foundation.

In addition, according to Bacher, Governor Arnold Schwarzeneggar, appointed an employee of the Research Legacy Foundation to sit on the Fish and Game Commission, an oversight agency of the MLPA. Bacher says the MLPA process was budgeted to cost under 300 thousand dollars, but has already ballooned to 35 million dollars.

The California Fish and Game commission will make the final decision on what areas to ban maritime and support limited maritime activity in August. BAcher says he’d rather see them adopt the North Central Coast MLPA Alternative plan. The MLPA blue ribbon commission will look at creating coastal protection zones from point arena north later this year.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009


Western Outdoor News


Published: May 11, 2009

The Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) started off with such noble goals, but the result today is a corrupt mess that is not accomplishing its objectives, and is decimating coastal economies in its wake. The fishery on the Central Coast, the first area to feel the impact of the act, is a shadow of its former self. Most of the charter boats are bankrupt and gone, shut off from the prime fishing grounds because the crazy process ignored the input from the fishing community. Tourism is way down, and a vibrant fishery has lost its infrastructure, probably never to come back. Devastation from this act should have been avoided but it is still continuing in the North Central Coast (centered off San Francisco) and Southern California. The MLPA process has become runaway environmentalism at its worst and now is the time for legislators to step back into the process and put a stop to special interest involvement in a public process.

Originally, legislators intended to set up a network of protected marine habitat areas that would make sense of a hodge-podge of existing Marine Protection Areas that sometimes overlapped in intent and were at cross purposes through the MLPA. Instead, the process has deflated coastal economies where implemented, has allowed environmental extremists to restrict and eliminate fishing without any science to support closures, and has created a bureaucratic monster in monitoring and enforcement that will cost the state $30 million per year, which is about $29.75 million more than the DFG originally estimated for costs.

Why is this happening? What happened to cause this process to go so far off track?

The primary cause of the MLPA malfunction lies in the source of funding for the process. When the legislature refused to allocate funds to implement the act, the Resources Legacy Fund Foundation stepped forward. This is the infamous “public/private funding” partnership that Secretary of Resources Mike Chrisman talks about so fondly. The funding of the RLFF came directly from the Packard Foundation, the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation and the Marisla Foundation, all with a background of extreme environmentalism.

With environmentalist extremists controlling the purse strings, they also began controlling the process. The RLFF and Secretary Chrisman insured that the MLPA, intended as a process to establish a noble habitat related protection network of MPAs, has turned into an obvious effort to stop most fishing even in locations where habitat protection wasn’t a fishing issue.

To understand how the source of funding corrupted the entire process, you must know something about the structure of the MLPA process. The Secretary of Resources and the Department of Fish and Game set up a Blue Ribbon Task Force (BRTF) to make recommendations and hold hearings. The BRTF also has a Scientific Advisory Team (SAT) to make recommendations and hold hearings. Then the BRTF also has a Regional Stakeholder Group (RSG) to hold hearings and make recommendations. Once the BRTF, SAT, and RSG has held enough hearings then the BRTF recommendation is passed along to the department of Fish and Game for analysis where it then goes to the Fish and Game Commission for hearings before the commission acts and the MPAs become law, a process that takes many months. This byzantine blizzard of hearings and interactions served only to offer a cover for the politicos supporting the enviro spin. Everyone wants to protect the resources; politicians want to be associated with saving the resources, but they didn’t want to face the consequences of their actions. The obscurity of the prolonged process gave them a cover. Clearly Governor Schwarzenegger and Secretary Chrisman are two politicians who deserve every criticism they get.

The environmental, anti-fishing spin has lead to the problems we are now facing with the MLPA. Instead of confining themselves to protecting the habitat from pollution and oil leaks, development, and damaging fishing techniques like bottom trawling, the MLPA principles closed down all fishing in many prime spots. This included sport fishing, an activity that hardly impacts the habitat and provides most of the tourism and jobs on the coast. Certainly many areas needed to be protected from those trawlers with their destructive plowing of the bottom with their weighted nets, but to lump all fishing into that category was not only scientifically wrong, but economically and politically stupid.

How can it be that scientists are ignoring the factual data and arriving at unsupported conclusions and excessive closures? For that you can look to the funding source. The RLFF represents the funding sources for the research grants that the scientists on the SAT depend upon for their livelihood. Establish MPAs and the MLPA mandates that they must be monitored and studied to insure that they are accomplishing the goals for which they were established. The very scientists who are on the SAT are the ones seeking this funding, and they are the ones trying to impress the funding organizations with their zeal.

To cite an egregious example, in scoring the effect of an MPA, the SAT said that the score for a proposed MPA needed to be downgraded if salmon fishing was allowed. The stated reason was that trolling for salmon could cause interactions with bottomfish. Essentially they were arguing that trolling on the upper part of the water column could impact fish on the bottom. Just doesn’t happen. So when the SAT was asked to produce a single scientific paper documenting this interaction they cited a so-called “workshop” where recreational salmon fishing was said to impact the bottom. After much effort and investigation the recreational fishing community discovered the individuals who originally testified and had them “clarify” their remarks to the SAT, and they pointed out that the SAT drew the wrong conclusion about what was said at this workshop. Even then it took more hours of testimony and many different scientific testimonies to discredit this fabricated idea. The guy who brought it up, who introduced manufactured “science” and who maintained an agenda that put recreational fishing through this was the chairman of the SAT! This was not an effort to protect habitat, it was a clear agenda to stop all fishing by some extremists, and the truth was just an inconvenience. This is just one example of the lies and red herrings MLPA principles were using to undermine fact that would have lead to a pure process and a successful habitat protection act.

Environmentalists state that fishing has all but eliminated species after species, and, unless we act, fishing will kill too many of the predators and damage the entire food chain and the ecology. These dire predictions might get them attention and more funding, but they don’t apply to California, nor to recreational fishing.

California actually has enlightened and strong fishery management programs. Except for the problems with salmon which can be placed directly with politicos over the continued battle to drain the Sacramento River into the southland, there are only three fish species, all rockfish, that are even designated as over-fished in California water. None are threatened, none endangered. An enlightened and responsible Pacific Fishery Management Council has led efforts that have resulted in restoring these over-fished species. Primarily, this was accomplished by establishing the largest MPA in the world: over 10,000 square miles are off limits to fishing to insure that all three species are protected and recovering. With a perfectly capable PFMC in place, it makes no sense that the MLPA principles should have fishing, or banning fishing, as their first priority. Misinformation and environmental zeal are trying to manage a fishing resource, doing it wrong, and causing great harm to our coastal communities and the recreational fishing industry.

The MLPA principles recognized that MPAs are by their very nature very restrictive, and the law specifies that they will need to be monitored and studied to insure that they continue to achieve the goals for which they were set up. That means that the rules need to be enforced and that costs money as well. Initially the DF&G said that they thought that this effort would cost them about $250,000 per year in additional funding. Now, with a runaway process, they are estimating more than $30 million per year! The state is broke, so where is the money going to come from? The RLFF, who so graciously offered to fund the establishment of MPAs have said they will not fund the implementation of the process. They have released a monster and the state cannot find the money to implement it.

The solution to solving this nightmarish problem lies in the legislature. They created this act, and now that it is out of control they need to step back in. Senator Florez, the Senate Majority Leader, has said his oversight committee will hold hearings to ferret out the causes that created the problems with the MLPA and why it isn’t being implemented the way the legislators intended. Why is it out of control? Just how badly has the funding tainted the process? How can we repair some of the damage that has been done on the Central Coast? How can we prevent runaway environmentalism while still protecting key habitat? These are just some of the questions his committee needs to ask. To encourage Senator Florez send him an email and tell him that the hearings really are necessary (

As originally stated, the MLPA had many fishermen believing the process was going to protect our fishing areas and insure a healthy and nurturing coastline. Instead it has been turned into an attack on recreational fishing, a fund raising propaganda tool for some enviro organizations, and a continuing employment opportunity for some environmentalists. The implementation needs to be halted and the devastation it has caused has to be fixed, and the crazy alphabet soup of hearings and the funding have to be reexamined and restructured.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

View From The North Coast

By Dan Richards

For the last 3 mornings I have sat on the hill above Highway 1 watching the ranch and enjoying the view. Watching the same cars, 3 days in a row northbound before the tide and then again watching them go south after the tide. Where are they going? North for abalone at some open to the public area: Stornetta Ranch, Mote Creek and maybe The Sea Ranch, except the County Parks do no open the gates until after sunrise. Hundreds of cars storming north. Cate and her family sat and watched the same migration at their ranch near Sail Rock, below Saunders Reef in Mendocino County. It was a windy and rough ocean, not even a boat from the South came North. And they will be back again for the big -1.9 tides in late May and again in late June.

Then I looked at our ranch, less than 8 people in three days (none this morning). Only 9 abalone were taken in 3 days, a couple sea trout and a handful of cabazon and 20 lbs of mussels. What impact do we have on the resources. Very little if any. What good is it to close these private lands? The locals that own lands here on the coast are not the problem of diminishing resources. It is outsiders. How do we save the resources by punishing the private landowners who have been the stewards of the ocean and the ecosystem for years? We have done nothing wrong for 130 years, but we are the ones who lose if the IPA is implemented. The migration of people will still appear here on the coast to rape it. What are they losing? At this time not much of anything. So without closing some of the public access trails (The Sea Ranch/2XA) nothing changes. If 2XA is adopted, the ecosystem gains by having a longer stretch of coastline protected by The Sea Ranch and the Richardson family. And the Sonoma County Park access trails are already in place for enjoyment and study of an SMR, unlike private lands which don’t have trails and you don’t even know if you can access yet…or ever.

And now that brings us to the cost factor. You and Comm. Kellogg have the right idea. Just send it back to the state for their real opinion of the cost for the future. I don’t think this will happen, so we will just have to guess. With the present budget how it is and prop 84 in limbo, where will it come from? As the state is broke and for how may more years will it be broke? Will the outside interests still be there in years to come…or will they take it over from the state. What would happen if the state dropped all funding and the outside organizations took control? Is this legal? Would the Fish and Game still have a say in what goes on? Will it really cost $60 million a year as I have read about?

Before any action is taken by the Commission I think it is advisable that you all come take a look at our coast on a major abalone low tide. Either in person or have F&G personal take pictures of the parking lots and coastline in key access areas. You will see first hand what is happening to our resources. Once the process is put into place, and it doesn’t really mater which one, the overload will begin. New regulations must follow ASAP…lowering the daily and seasonal limit, shortening the season, restricting the gear type…boats should go!!! More enforcement personnel is needed to patrol and enforce both open and closed areas. As the landowners will not be keeping an open eye any longer. Cal-Tip will have to put in more lines. The illegal activity, commercial take of abalone will flourish under these or any changes.

I’m at a loss for what really is going to and will happen, it is a slap in the faces for those of us that have lived here for generations. If anything does happen I sure hope that 2XA is the “chosen one” and we deal with the financial problems as they arise. See you on the 14th and let’s hope all goes well. As my family and the people of Sub-regions 1 & 2 can only live with 2XA. It doesn’t matter what “she” says…It was the popular and supported proposal in this area…2XA!!!

Arch Richardson
The 5 Richardson families, 5 ranches, 4.6 mile of coastline, 130+ years heritage
The thousands on the coast that support 2XA

Opinion: Collaboration on protecting the ocean moves into critical phase

By Samantha Murray

On Thursday in Sacramento, the Fish and Game Commission will hold the last big public comment hearing on a bold new plan to protect coastal waters off California's north central coast. It promises to be a packed house and a lively debate, teeming with opinions as diverse as our state's ocean wildlife.

I have been in the trenches on this issue for two years, working side by side with fishermen, divers, environmentalists, educators and wildlife enthusiasts. This motley bunch was brought together through the Marine Life Protection Act, a law passed in 1999 to stop the downward trend in California fisheries by creating a network of underwater parks, or marine protected areas. The Marine Life Protection Act will do for California's ocean what we've done for 100 years on land: create refuges where wildlife can thrive.

Instead of having agency staff draft the plan, California invited 40 coastal residents to sit down together, roll up their sleeves and design it themselves. Together, we spent thousands of hours poring over charts, negotiating boundaries and weighing ecological and economic factors to map out a marine protected area network between Point Arena and Pigeon Point.

The fruit of our labor is a compromise known as the "Integrated Preferred Alternative." It isn't what any of us had in mind two years ago, but it will protect most of the area's special places and that's what matters. Studies show that marine reserves allow fish and wildlife to grow larger, more abundant and healthier. And that's a win for everyone.

The compromise protects threatened and unique habitats at key sites like Sea Lion Cove, Stewarts Point and the Farallon Islands, while still leaving nearly 90 percent of state waters open to various forms of fishing. Popular spots like Fort Ross, Sea Ranch, Salt Point and Anchor Bay are left open to free diving so that coastal communities continue to reap the economic benefits of abalone-seeking tourists. And the commercial guys at Bodega Bay and Pillar Point still can get out of their harbors safely, even in windy conditions, and return to port with a healthy catch.

With places like Duxbury Reef and San Gregorio left unprotected, some in the conservation camp think this plan is too permissive. And some fishermen still want to see every one of their favorite fishing spots left open. But I believe successful resource management is about give and take. It's about finding the common ground we share as Californians: We all want healthier oceans, and we all want more fish for the future.

Our stakeholder group did find common ground. We started out in opposite corners, but instead of hunkering down, environmentalists went to the docks, got out on boats and worked with local fishermen to create a plan we believe will work for our oceans and for coastal residents.

At the end of the day, the ocean doesn't belong to any one of us. We're all responsible for its health — or for its demise.

So I hope the folks at Thursday's meeting walk in with an understanding of the careful compromise the Integrated Preferred Alternative represents. And I hope that the Fish and Game Commission stays the course and adopts this strong, science-based plan for our region's ocean health.

Samantha Murray is a diver and fisherwoman, and works for Ocean Conservancy. She wrote this article for the Mercury News.

Monday, May 11, 2009

North County Times: Ocean fish fewer, smaller

Shrinking size threatens species' ability to reproduce


Sunday, May 10, 2009

As environmentalists and fishermen spar over what proportion of coastal Southern California waters should be protected as a sort of ocean wilderness, scientists say one thing is clear: The marine environment along San Diego and nearby counties is far from pristine.

"There's been growing concern within the state and the region about the overall health of the near-shore ecosystems, partly due to over-exploitation, partly due to habitat loss and partly due to pollution," said Charlie Wahle, a senior scientist for the federal government in Monterey.

That concern has spawned a campaign to redesign and expand a system of state reserves all along California's 1,100-mile-long coast.

For the past several months, the state has been focusing its efforts on Southern California between Santa Barbara and the U.S.-Mexico border. And debate is heating up among fishers, divers, environmentalists, scientists, public officials and others over how much of the ocean should be fenced off from fishing and other activities to boost declining populations of marine animals.

Whatever the result of that debate, several signs suggest that not all is well.

Hard to find

Rockfish populations collapsed during the 1990s and are struggling to recover today, scientists say. Four species of rockfish are common in Southern California, including the cowcod, bocaccio and canary, and less than one-quarter of their original populations remain, according to a state report.

Not only are numbers down for rockfish and other groups of species, the fish are half as big as two decades ago, scientists say.

Conditions are particularly dire for the seven species of abalone in Southern California, where the soft-shelled animals used to be plentiful.

Kate Hanley, marine conservation director for the environmental group San Diego Coastkeeper, said, "If you talk to an old-timer around here, you'll find that you used to be able to just walk along the shore of La Jolla and scoop up an abalone and have it for dinner."

Abalone are hard to find now.

Populations of all the abalone species have declined to tiny fractions of what they were, said Ed Parnell, a marine ecologist who conducts research for UC San Diego's Scripps Institution of Oceanography, in a telephone interview last week.

And the situation is so dire for one species ---- the black abalone ---- that it was declared by federal officials in January to be in danger of going extinct.

"Black abalone are all gone off San Diego," Parnell said. "They've been hit by both overfishing and disease."

On the rebound

At the same time, not all is lost, he said: "Many species are doing pretty well offshore here."

Parnell said that kelp bass and sand bass are still common, for example.

And a state report last fall said the population of giant sea bass, which plummeted last century largely as a result of overfishing, has rebounded since the state banned fishing with gill nets in 1994. But it is still well below historical numbers.

The plight of California's near-shore animals was the driving force behind a new state law passed a decade ago, calling for a complete overhaul of the state's existing, fragmented system of marine protected areas. Such places restrict or ban harvesting of marine life.

It has taken a long time for the project to get off the ground, however. State officials launched an effort to retool the system several years ago, only to have it collapse amid a groundswell of opposition from the fishing industry. Stunned fishermen protested when officials abruptly announced they planned to substantially expand marine protected areas off La Jolla and Point Loma, and to create one off Camp Pendleton Marine Corps Base.

A marine protected area is much like the wilderness area and habitat conservation plan on land, in which human activities are restricted to protect a variety of wildlife. The focus is waters the state has control over ---- from the shore to three miles out.

Closed to fishing

Despite the earlier disaster, the state is at it again.

But this time, fishers were brought in at the front end. Rather than leaving them in the dark and letting them react to someone else's plan, state officials invited fishers to sit on a regional stakeholder group of more than 60 people representing ocean users, environmentalists, scientists and others. The group is preparing to refine a set of draft proposals for a new system of reserves in Southern California later this month.

The state successfully used that strategy to design marine protected areas in Central and Northern California. But observers say it will be much more difficult to carve out an acceptable compromise in the heavily populated, heavily fished southern part of the state.

Nevertheless, the state Department of Fish and Game is aiming to deliver a plan by fall through something called the Marine Life Protection Act Initiative. In the meantime, this summer promises to be a hot one ---- at least in terms of debate over the merits of fencing this or that section of state waters off from fishing.

In San Diego County, say scientists and fishers, the biggest fight again is expected to focus on La Jolla and Point Loma. And there may be a move to close waters off the North County coast near Encinitas and Solana Beach, they say.

As for Camp Pendleton, the military has made a pitch to leave that area open to avoid conflict with amphibious exercises.

Dave Rudie owns Catalina Offshore Products, a San Diego seafood company that harvests sea urchins. A member of the regional stakeholder group, Rudie said the state should avoid closing too-large areas because it could backfire. He said controlling sea urchin populations helps the environment by preventing the animals from devouring kelp beds.

The underwater forests of seaweed that tend to concentrate along rocky reefs is one of the local bright spots in an otherwise murky picture.

"San Diego County has relatively healthy and robust kelp systems," said Hanley of San Diego Coastkeeper.

Size matters

But most fish species have declined.

"Fishermen are now catching less than half of what they caught in 1990," Hanley said. "And the fish that they do catch are 45 percent smaller."

Size is a problem for several reasons. One, said Hanley, is that large female fish produce exponentially more eggs than smaller females.

"You always want big old fat females around ---- at least in the fish world," she said.

In an underwater world with smaller females, there is less chance to reproduce, she said.

Karen Garrison, co-director of the Natural Resources Defense Council's oceans program, said size also is a huge concern for one particular species: the California sheephead.

In a curious phenomenon, all sheephead hatch as females. It is only when they get older that many develop into males.

And, so, said Garrison, as sport fishermen take large sheephead for trophies, they inadvertently thin out males, a trend that threatens the species' survival.

"They are systematically taking males out of the population," she said.

Fishing also has been blamed for the precipitous drop in the number of black abalone. But the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Fisheries Service, in placing the shellfish on the endangered species list this year, said the primary factor in the creatures' demise was the spread of a bacterial disease known as withering syndrome.

"It's clear that our management isn't adequate to keep our ecosystems in shape," Garrison said.

Rudie begs to differ.

"In the last 10 years, things have rebounded because of good fisheries management," he said.

Yes, there may be a need for more management tools, such as the reserves that are in the making, he said. But Rudie said the state must recognize the progress that has been made to date and avoid going overboard in drawing new boundaries for marine protected areas.

"The fishing groups are not against marine protected areas. We are proposing some of them," Rudie said. "We just don't want to be put out of business in this experiment."

Friday, May 8, 2009

From our Friends at Bloody Decks....Take a Little Time to Become Informed...

It is important that you as BD members understand what the MLPA process is and how to get involved. Please read this post for a brief explanation of the process and how you can make a difference. In addition it is important we work together as users of the resource whether commercial,recreational, or conservation minded and not argue over who has more right to the ocean, this will affect us all.THIS IS IMPORTANT PLEASE TAKE A LITTLE TIME TO BECOME INFORMED!

What is the MLPA?
MLPA is the Marine Life Protection Act (AB 993) that was signed into law in 1999 to protect marine habitat in state waters along the California coast. The basis of this act was the current system of marine closures did not have clear goals and objectives, and were not being managed effectively. In addition fish stocks were in decline and the best way to protect them was to create a managed network to protect marine areas from harm due to fishing and other environmental impacts.
Who are the players in the planning process?
Several groups of people have been assigned tasks in the MLPA process here is a brief description of them:
Blue Ribbon Task Force (BRTF): Advisory oversight group that gives policy direction and guidelines to be followed to other teams and submits proposals to the Fish and Game
Science Advisory Team (SAT): Develops protection level and habitat protection guidelines (approved by the BRTF) and analyzes proposals for effectiveness using scientific data/methods
Regional Stakeholder Group (RSG): Creates proposals of protected areas with guidance from the SAT, BFTR, and DFG along with public input and information
I-Team: Individuals from the DFG, State Parks, Natural Resources Agency, and outside contracted staff that provide guidance on feasibility, enforcement, and regulations to the RSG

Who are they and what do they want to close?
There really is no “they” in this process, the RSG is composed of 64 people from all interests; fisheries, water quality, local governments, tribal representatives, Department of Defense, environmental organizations (NGO), and interested citizens. This group of people, following the guidance from the BRTF, SAT, I-Team, and public comment are creating proposed areas for protection called Marine Protected Areas or MPAs.

What are the different types of MPAs?
Four basic types of MPA designations are being used in this process
State Marine Reserve (SMR): In a state marine reserve, it is unlawful to injure, damage, take, or possess any living geological or cultural marine resource. In addition, but rarely used, access and use for activities including, but not limited to, walking, swimming, boating, and diving can also be prohibited. No fishing or extractive activities allowed.
State Marine Conservation Area (SMCA): Limited commercial and or recreational extractive activities may be allowed. The MPA definition must specify extractive (fishing) activities that can occur and by what gear type; examples are Recreational take of finfish by hook and line or spear fishing gear; Commercial take of Lobster by trap; recreational take of clams by allowed digging implements.
State Marine Park (SMP): Limited recreational take only, no commercial extraction can occur in an SMP. The MPA definition must specify extractive (fishing) activities that can occur and by what gear type just like in an SMCA.
State Marine Recreational Managed Area (SMRMA): Used specifically to allow waterfowl hunting in an area where marine protection is desired. The MPA definition must specify extractive activities that can occur such as only waterfowl hunting.

What about catch and release, slot limits, or bag limit changes?
The MLPA is only allowed to deal with preventing extractive activities to protect habitat for marine species by restricting extraction within an area. Things such as fishing seasons, slot limits, and bag limits are fishery management activities that are not part of the MLPA process. Catch and release fishing is something the DFG agrees with in principle but have difficulty enforcing in an open ocean environment. The MLPA is all about protecting habitat areas not managing the fishery.

Where can I find more information?
The DFG has created a website to inform the public on the MLPA process. Information is available at on this site you can find links to documents, meeting information, contact information, public comments, and how to get involved.

Why do they have these meetings during the day when I am working?
True most of the meetings occur on a weekday when most people are working. Since these meetings are long and take most of the day and require other working individuals to attend or participate that is generally when they occur.

What should I do to get involved?
At a minimum write a letter or send an email. The process is going to happen, it has been challenged in court and will proceed. The people making the decisions need to know what areas are important to you. Send them a letter/email telling them what area(s) are most important to you and why. Make it personal yet professional. These people are making a big decision that most do not take lightly, they need to hear from you.
Emails can be sent to and letters can be sent to:
MLPA Initiative
c/o California Natural Resources Agency
1416 Ninth Street, Suite 1311
Sacramento, CA95814

Or faxed to 916.653.8102 Attn: MLPA Initiative

These comments are distributed to the RSG members and others as well as posted to the website for all to see and use for input.

*** SPECIAL ANNOUNCEMENT ***A special meeting has been called on May 19th to allow for public comment to begin after dinner at around 7:00 PM in Santa Ana. This is an opportunity for all those who work to attend and get their public comment presented to the RSG. This comment period occurs the night prior to workshop breakout days to finalize maps designating round two MPA proposals. This is a perfect time to provide your input as to what areas are important to you for keeping open or closing and why.
Comment cards should be filled out and handed in before 7:00 PM as they may limit comments to only those cards received by that time.

The meeting location is:
Doubletree Hotel Santa Ana
201 East MacArthur Blvd.
Santa Ana, CA 92707

Environmentalists are trying to sink NorCal sport fishermen

There’s a whopper of a sea battle going on in Sacramento between environmentalists and Northern California’s recreational fishermen. The battle is about the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA). Passed in 1999, the MLPA sets up marine protection areas which limit or totally ban sport fishing. The MLPA is being implemented by the California Department of Fish and Game, who have already closed off 85 square miles of coastal water between San Mateo and Santa Barbara, representing 50% of the best fishing in the area.

Now the DFG proposes drastic limits to sport fishing between Pigeon Point and Mendocino by the end of this summer. Well-financed environmental groups such as the Resources Legacy Fund are out-gunning the sport fishing industry in lobbying Sacramento in favor of restrictions.
A consortium of sport fishing organizations, called the Partnership for Sustainable Oceans, has presented an alternative proposal to the DFC, called Proposal 2XA, that maintains a high level of conservation, but gives sport fishermen maximum access to good fishing. Proposal 2XA also seeks to minimize the negative impact on local communities along the coast that depend on revenue from sport fishing.

DFG has appointed a commission to recommend implementation of the PLPA. The commission is to meet May 13-14 to begin taking public comment on the competing proposals.

The partnership and the sport fishing organization, Keep America Fishing are urging sport fishermen to write letters in support of Proposal 2XA. For a suggested letter, click here.
For a report on other legislative action threatening recreational boating, see "Don't let Sacramento pirates hold your boat for ransom."