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 www.outdoornewsservice.com