Monday, November 2, 2009

Steve Scheiblauer: State's ocean protection areas won't work

By Steve Scheiblauer, Santa Cruz Sentinel
November 1, 2009

Will the State's Marine Protected Areas be a model for dealing with threats from over-fishing, climate change and habitat destruction? No, and here's why.

A report by 21 international scientists studied the status of 10 large eco-systems. They found our California current eco-system to be the best managed. The likelihood of having sustainable fisheries here was 95 percent, confirming what NOAA says: West Coast fisheries are sustainable.

These results were through 2006, before the new California MPAs were created. The lead author of the report, Dr. Ray Hilborn, stated that the California MPAs do not significantly contribute to overall eco-system health, and, the California MPA network creates only "the illusion of protection." By the state auditor's own calculation, this illusion of protection will cost taxpayers between $35 million and $55 million per year for enforcement and monitoring.

It is true that in the state's network of small MPAs there may be more and larger fish, and biodiversity may increase. However, the MPAs won't protect against other forces, including global warming, ocean acidification, natural oceanographic changes, and the degree to which other predators move into the MPAs to take advantage of increased abundance.

According to sanctuary information, only five of 11 fished species were more abundant inside two long established state MPAs in Central California than outside. The difference in abundance with these five species was also quite small. It will be impossible to measure the effects of these MPAs on the eco-system as there are too many variables.

Modern eco-system based management takes into account all the dynamics of nature, and all human management and uses. Humans and human needs are part of the eco-system, and must be accounted for in eco-system based management.

The state refused to consider the existing fisheries management measures, including the very large federal MPAs already in place off Central California. The state told its science team to design a network that could stand alone, as if no other management existed. This is not eco-system based management.

Also, the socio-economic analysis on the effects of the MPAs was inadequate. A significant shortcoming was the failure to acknowledge the effects of displaced effort. Remember, MPAs don't reduce the number of fish caught, they merely dictate where they are caught. When fishermen are displaced by an MPA, they will concentrate their effort into the remaining open areas. The Central Coast MPAs took 45 percent of the prime habitat where the fish live, and focused the remaining fishing effort into open areas. The likely outcome is that the MPAs create areas where there are fish, but also create areas that may be overfished. This is hardly an example of eco-system based management.

Last, state MPAs were put into place with essentially no support from a primary stakeholder group, fishermen. This was not merely because of the economic impacts, but because experienced fishermen were aware that there was little eco-system benefit to the MPAs. There is widespread scientific agreement that community and stakeholder support are needed for MPAs to succeed.

An MPA network that truly had eco-system benefits could have been created, but the state made this process highly political, rushing and biasing the science. Don't you think the ocean and the public deserve better than this?

Steve Scheiblauer is the Monterey harbor master, and has been a representative in the state's efforts to implement the Marine Life Protection Act. He has lived in Santa Cruz for 38 years.

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