Thursday, September 17, 2009

Three marine protected area groups proposed

A Marine Life Protection Act stakeholders group and task force debate the ups and downs of the three proposals, which would create marine protected areas off the coast.

By Melonie Magruder / Special to The Malibu Times
September 16, 2009

The blue ribbon task force working to define Marine Protected Areas for implementation of the Marine Life Protection Act in Southern California heard public commentary last week, and the line of coastal citizens waiting to speak their piece stretched all the way around the ballroom at the Sheraton Gateway Hotel in Los Angeles.

Executive Director Ken Wiseman of the task force and members of the South Coast Regional Stakeholder Group heard from residents weighing in on preferences for what has boiled down to three proposals for restricting commercial and recreational activities along the southern coast, including one off Point Dume.

The marine reserves would permit swimming and other recreational activities, but prohibit any kinds of extraction, from fish to kelp, other than for certain scientific data collection

Specifics on the Marine Protected Areas, or MPAs, from the three working groups are not publicly available yet, but fishing interests seem to support Group II while environmentalists seem split between groups I and III.

While most speakers recognized the need for imposing some kind of “take” restrictions in order to allow fish populations to replenish, many whose lives are intertwined with the fishing industry are worried about the economic impact such actions would have on their livelihoods.

The task force is working to strike a compromise that reconciles the concerns of environmentalists, marine biologists, commercial fishing businesses and weekend kayak fishers.

Alex Matsumoto, who owns a bait shop, said, “I speak for hundreds of tackle shops along the coast. [Substantial restrictions] will just devastate our business.”

Terry Scott of Paradise Cove said, “We are construction workers and service employees who have lived and fished for sport for decades. We support [proposals] that keeps east of Dume open.”

Linda Gibbs of Malibu said that her own children grew up spear fishing in Malibu but that the visible depletion of populations has led her to support carefully defined MPAs.

“We need balance,” Gibbs said. “[One] group might have a bigger no-catch area but [another] group doesn't adequately address Point Dume. We need to put MPAs where they will do the most good.”

Gibbs recently circulated a petition in Malibu that she believes meets all the scientific guidelines for an MPA, but is a fair compromise for fishermen. It allows for some recreational fishing at the Big Kelp Reef at Point Dume and at Paradise Cove Pier.

Gibbs said that perhaps only 1 percent of the people she met opposed any restrictions. “But they were offset by others who said the maps didn't go far enough,” she said.

Nichole McGinley, also of Malibu, believes that it is crucial the MPAs are devised comprehensively, since “California will be setting the tone for the rest of the nation's MLPAs.

“We need to differentiate between party boats with dozens of fishermen and one, nonmotorized spear fisherman,” McGinley said. “Now is the time when this kind of tweaking should be done.”

Charlotte Stevenson of the environmental advocacy group Heal the Bay emphasized that the environmental protection organization's concern was with take, rather than nonconsumptive, activity.

Some stakeholders question the science guidelines for developing MPAs. Dean Morrow is a recreational fisherman from Long Beach and fears that scientists and environmental groups developing protocols have no practical experience in the field.

“If you don't actually go out and fish, you don't know what's going on,” Morrow said. “We do a lot of our own policing. We release 80 percent of marlin and almost all calico bass. Maybe regulations should just place stricter limits on catch size.”

That sentiment was echoed by Kevin Ketchum, a member of the stakeholder group who believes the Group II proposal mandates the best guidelines.

“This plan also takes into consideration nonconsumptive users, like county and state water quality agencies,” Ketchum said in a phone interview. “The problem I have is that the science advisory team devising the maps treats kayak anglers the same as a party boat or guys who practice catch and release. Fisheries management was not really included in considerations and there are no scientific studies saying there have been depletions of any species.”

Stevenson said that assessment is a bit misleading.

“The science guidelines were developed by a nonpartisan advisory team comprised of scientists from academia and the Department of Fish and Game,” Stevenson said. “As far as scientific studies and species' depletion, well, it's kind of hard to say ‘I'm going out to count every halibut in Santa Monica Bay.' We have to rely on landings data and other measures to assess population.”

Stevenson provided a study by the Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission on statewide fish landings that included data on revenues, trips, vessels and processors by county, conducted from 1990-2008. The declines in all areas ranged up to 95 percent.

The MLPA task force and the science advisory team are meeting next month to continue deliberations. The California Fish and Game Commission will be reviewing a draft recommendation for mapping MPAs in Southern California by December, with an approved plan to be in place by next summer.

More information on the Marine Life Protection Act and the Marine Protected Areas can be obtained online at

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