The Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) was established in California in 1999.
The MLPA by law will create Marine Protected Areas (MPA) that in theory will protect breeding populations of bottom fish and other sea creatures.
The idea is these fish-generating areas will provide enough fish outside the MPAs for fishermen to catch while at the same time protect the resource for future generations. There will be three levels of restrictions assigned to MPAs — no human access, research access only, and limited recreational access.
The size of each MPA was estimated to be no less than 9 square miles and they should be 30 to 60 miles apart. The MPAs are to be established based on scientific data while taking socioeconomic factors under consideration.
At face value, the MLPA seems like a good idea, but the facts of the matter are much different. First, there is not enough scientific data to show that overfishing is occurring. The MLPA is supposed to revisit each MPA every five years to monitor results. Without a baseline study, how can the MLPA measure success?
If fish stocks are not in trouble, why do we need MPAs? There are already restricted areas and fishing limits in place. Limits have been reduced to 10 rockfish per angler each day. The Rockfish Conservation Area is closed to fishing for rockfish in water deeper than 120 feet. That is one of the largest closures in the world.
On the North Coast, all rockfishing is closed once the allotted (estimated) by-catch of yelloweye rockfish is reached.
Our most severe fishing restriction on the North Coast is weather.
Major funding for implementing the MLPA comes exclusively from powerful environmental organizations, mainly the Packard Foundation. After the MPAs are established, the California Department of Fish and Game will be required to fund monitoring and enforcement. That was originally estimated to cost $250,000 per year but is now estimated to be somewhere between $25 million to $40 million a year. That spread in estimated dollars makes one wonder if they know what they are getting into.
Our governor has proposed closing our state parks for two years because of the economic crisis. How can he close existing parks that will eliminate jobs and at the same time create underwater parks that will also eliminate jobs?
Does the governor believe the Department of Fish and Game has done a poor job of managing our natural resources and needs to turn to private funds to save the environment? It seems the governor wants to save the environment, whether it needs it or not, and can’t afford the money or time to do it right.
The MLPA process is supposed to be transparent and inclusive to all. But again, the facts paint another picture.
During the North Central Coast process, stakeholder groups spent thousands of hours gathering their own scientific and socioeconomic data. With this information, the groups agreed on an alternate proposal that still met all the MLPA requirements. The effort was literally thrown into the trash can.
It was blatantly obvious to those close to the process that the MLPA Blue Ribbon Task Force has its own agenda that is nowhere near inclusive.
One of the results was the creation of an MPA that encompasses most all of Point Arena, which effectively puts that town, that relies on fishing, out of business.
The MLPA process is coming to the North Coast this summer and aims to conclude by 2011. The areas targeted for closures are in Shelter Cove, Cape Mendocino, Humboldt Bay, Trinidad and Crescent City.
Historically, in the MLPA process, the fishing areas that are closest to ports are closed. This severely impacts sport fishermen and the business that depends on their support.
The members of Humboldt Area Saltwater Anglers (HASA) are teaming with a host of user groups and local government agencies to make sure the MPAs established on the North Coast are not overly restrictive to recreational activities, are based on the best science available, and do not adversely affect the local economy. HASA also invites environmental groups or individuals to discuss the issues. HASA feels that their members are as concerned about the environment and maintaining ocean resources for the future as anyone.
Our Web presence is on the Humboldt Tuna Club discussion board at humboldttuna.com.
Casey Allen is a longtime sport fisherman with Humboldt Area Saltwater Anglers.
Opinions expressed in My Word pieces do not necessarily reflect the editorial viewpoint of the Times- Standard.
The California Fisheries Coalition includes 27 recreational and commercial fishing associations and businesses. We have participated in all aspects of the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative process since Fall 2004. We have invested hundreds of hours to attend meetings, analyze options, map key fishing grounds, and develop a recommended network of central coast Marine Protected Areas (MPAs).
Our objective is to see a full and balanced implementation of the MLPA. This Act seeks to protect diversity of marine life and "help sustain, conserve and protect" marine populations. It requires monitoring and adaptive management of MPAs. It is not intended to duplicate pre-existing comprehensive protections that have been in place on the ocean for many years.