Thursday, September 3, 2009

Fishermen, enviros butt heads over MLPA survey results

By Melonie Magruder / Special to The Malibu Times
September 2, 2009

Results of a survey categorizing beach activities of 5,865 Southern California visitors have put the state's Department of Fish and Game a step closer to implementing the Marine Life Protection Act, which includes proposed marine reserves off Westward Beach, Point Dume and Paradise Cove.

The reserves would allow recreational activity but prohibit the extraction of all marine resources, such as fish and kelp, other than for scientific data collection.

Local and commercial fishermen heavily opposed to reserves and other types of Marine Protected Areas say the revenue loss to the state from further fishing restrictions enacted by the MLPA would be devastating. However, the results of the survey-conducted by The Santa Monica Bay Restoration Foundation-reveal that more than 90 percent of visits to the Southern California coast are for “non consumptive” activities such as scuba diving, tide-pooling and surfing, and that such “non-take” activities bring more money to coastal economies than “consumptive activities” like fishing.

Other fishing advocates claim that proposed MPA maps are too restrictive and don't permit efficient marine population management. California Fisheries Coalition Spokesman Vern Goehring believes the survey was skewed to find a targeted result.

“If you don't take into account the economic impact of boating activity-and most fishing is done from boats-then it's not a complete study,” Goehring said in a phone interview. “So how do you measure the true value? Does the study include ‘consumptive' activities like dining at a coastal seafood restaurant? Enjoying the cultural and historical significance of fishing towns or piers? There are a lot of holes in the report, I think.”

The survey, and its approach to collecting data, was designed in part by Dr. Linwood Pendleton of The Ocean Foundation. A computer tool that leverages the internet and Google Maps technology were used to randomly interview residents about their visits to the California coast. The survey sought to collect basic geographically referenced data to determine the amount of shore-based coastal recreation within targeted areas; estimate the expenditures on these recreations and develop techniques to cost-effectively monitor the impact of marine protection on shore-based recreational users. (The study did not focus on private or charter boat recreation.)

“Designing MPAs that try and minimize impacts on fishing misses the point,” Pendleton wrote in an e-mail. “The MLPA is a golden opportunity to make all of society better off, not just marine ecosystems.

“If the marine reserves around Point Dume and Palos Verdes offer solid protection, I think the benefits to local recreation and tourism will be many times greater than the costs to fishing,” Pendleton continued. “I can't wait to see the parking lot at the end of Westward Beach fill up with people coming to see the marine reserve!”

In the Internet survey Pendleton designed, respondents could select a coastal access site on a Google map in response to questions about where they generally visit the coast and about the specific beach they last visited. Respondents could select one of 225 predefined sites or designate their own site using a geo-spatial module developed for the survey, allowing information to be gathered on large stretches of coastline.

The survey ultimately gathered data from consumptive and non-consumptive visitors on types of coastal activities (fishing, diving, wildlife viewing), coastal access points used, trip-related expenditures and personal demographics (i.e., education level, place of residence, income and ethnicity).

The study group also checked data from recreational anglers to record what species were targeted, caught and kept during recent fishing trips.

More than 30 percent of respondents with the opportunity to take the survey completed it, and the result showed that the vast majority of trips taken by private, shore-based visitors are non consumptive in nature, with beach-going, ocean swimming and animal watching topping the list.

Consumptive activities-such as spear fishing, lobster diving and hook and line fishing-were on the list of recreations, but consistently scored in the single digits as activities enjoyed by respondents.

Data on trip-related expenditures showed that purely non-consumptive visits brought almost $115 million to coastal economies, while purely consumptive visits brought in about $2.5 million. Visits that combined consumptive and non-consumptive activities brought in about $23.5 million.

Lia Protopapadakis, marine policy specialist for the Santa Monica Bay Restoration Commission, said the report has been sent to the Blue Ribbon Task Force, as well as all regional stakeholders.

“I think this report will weigh heavily on the task force's deliberations in developing MPAs,” Protopapadakis said. “Where I'm seeing the most impact now is in talking with coastal city representatives about the results. Redondo Beach is very interested as they have a strong commercial charter business.”

The Fish and Game Commission will be reviewing draft recommendations for the next several months, with an approved plan to be in place by next summer. Pendleton said he was hopeful about his report's impact.

“Southern California has made such impressive advances in improving water quality, restoring estuaries and coastal lagoons, and protecting... coastal habitat,” Pendleton wrote. “Protecting underwater habitat seems to be the obvious next step. No place in California stands to gain more from a good marine reserve system.”

The full Coastal Visitor Use Survey may be found by visiting the website

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