Thursday, August 6, 2009

Vote on marine reserves off North-Central California leaves fishermen angry

By Pete Thomas of the Los Angeles Times

August 5, 2009

Two men fish from the rocks at Fort Baker in Sausalito with Alcatraz Island in the background. It was not among areas subject to fishing closures as part of the MLPA process.

The California Fish and Game Commission on Wednesday afternoon adopted the Integrated Preferred Alternative within the Marine Life Protection Act process as it pertains to the North-Central coast.

It will create 22 marine protected areas and ban or restrict fishing in nearly 20% of coastal waters between Half Moon Bay and Point Arena.

The commission adopted the measure -- one of four alternative measures up for consideration -- by a vote of 3-2.

While environmental groups were pleased with a measure they believe will help ensure the long-term survival of beleaguered fish stocks, fishermen did not waste time bemoaning the loss of historic fishing grounds and what they perceive to be a threat to their livelihoods. State game wardens complained that they're already overworked and may not be able to guard against poaching and other violations.

"For me the most painful is an area called Fitzgerald's Reef, which extends outside the harbor six miles along the coast and three miles offshore," said Capt. William Smith of the recreational fishing boat Rip Tide, which runs from Half Moon Bay. "That's always been a major fishery for us."

Much of the waters surrounding the Farallon Islands west of San Francisco also will be closed to fishing, with a few seasonal exceptions. Nature viewing operations might also be affected there because there will be a 1,000-foot buffer zone from North Island. A spokesman for a small seaweed harvesting business at Point Arena said it will suffer a 40% annual loss because of the restrictions.

The closures are not immediate and it remains unclear exactly when they will go into effect.

Said Samantha Murray of the Ocean Conservancy, a key architect of the plan: “A healthy ocean contributes to our economy, environment and way of life. With the help of state and federal agencies, as well as private support, Californians can be proud that we’re on the path toward more sustainable seas.”

Opponents had hoped the state's glaring budget woes would derail the MLPA process, which is currently focusing on Southern California.

“Today’s vote to move forward with a new $55-million a year marine program shows that the Schwarzenegger administration is not listening to the people of California," Vern Goehring, president of the California Fisheries Coalition, said in a statement. (The figure Goehring refers to is a high estimate.)

"The people have spoken and the governor has said he got the message: live within our means because everyone must contribute to get out of this mess, Goehring added. "So how does he justify starting a new program while cutting healthcare for kids, closing parks and now, releasing inmates?

“It’s a fishy business that this expensive new program claims to protect the ocean, but in reality won’t even address water pollution, which we all know is a major issue. All it does is ban fishing, which ironically, is already heavily regulated and studies show California is one of the least-fished, best protected areas in the world."

Please click here for the details regarding the adopted measure.

The MLPA process first dealt with the Central California coast. In 2006 fishing was banned or restricted in about 18% of state waters from Santa Barbara to Half Moon Bay. It's too early to determine the effectiveness there but surveys last year within reserves established in 2003 around the Channel Islands found 50% more rockfish, sheephead, lingcod, lobster and other species.

Stay tuned for updates.

Photo: Two men fish from the rocks at Fort Baker in Sausalito with Alcatraz Island in the background. It was not among areas subject to fishing closures as part of the MLPA process. Credit: Associated Press

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