California puts severe limits on ocean fishing
Herald and News 11/20/06
‘‘We’re trying to make sure our oceans are as protected as our land,’’ said Sutton, a marine expert at the Monterey Bay Aquarium who piloted a single-engine plane along a coastline punctuated by craggy headlands, rocky islets and soaring mountains.
Despite intense opposition from many fishermen, California wildlife regulators are creating the nation’s most extensive network of ‘‘marine protected areas’’ — stretches of ocean where fishing will be banned or severely restricted.
The first chain of fish refuges, covering some 200 square miles stretching from Santa Barbara to Half Moon Bay, just south of San Francisco, is due to take effect early next year. The state then plans to establish similar protected zones in northern and southern California.
Conservationists say such networks represent a new approach to saving the world’s beleaguered oceans from overfishing. They believe California’s plan could serve as a model for other states and countries.
‘‘It’s the beginning of a historic shift in how we restore, protect and manage our oceans,’’ said Warner Chabot, vice president of the Ocean Conservancy. ‘‘We’re doing something that’s as historic for the oceans as what Teddy Roosevelt did 100 years ago when he created national parks and forests.’’
But the proposed restricted areas happen to overlap with some of California’s most productive fishing grounds. Commercial and recreational fishermen question whether they’re even necessary, given the existing array of state and federal regulations.
‘‘We’re duplicating conservation efforts unnecessarily,’’ said Vern Goehring, manager of the California Fisheries Coalition. ‘‘There are significant actions already under way to prevent overfishing in California.’’
Fishermen say the no-fishing zones will put more pressure on areas outside the reserves and could lead to increased seafood imports from countries with fewer marine protections.
At Monterey’s Fisherman’s Wharf, longtime trollers and crabbers say the new restrictions will cripple their industry, hurt fishing communities and leave Californians with less fresh, local seafood.
‘‘We’re being regulated out of business,’’ said Mike Rivets, a 70-year-old fisherman for salmon, crab and tuna. ‘‘We’re being eliminated from the areas where we traditionally fish.’’
But scientists say more must be done to protect fisheries.
A report in this month’s issue of the journal Science warns that nearly a third of the world’s seafood species have collapsed — meaning their catch has declined by 90 percent or more — and all populations of fished species could collapse by 2048 if current fishing and pollution trends continue.
‘‘We’ve mismanaged the oceans from abundance into scarcity,’’ said Karen Garrison, an ocean expert at the Natural Resources Defense Council. ‘‘We can’t protect our oceans without setting aside safe havens where fish can grow big and the whole food web can thrive.’’
Like other coastal states, California manages its fisheries by regulating the harvest of individual species by seasons, bag quotas, catch size and depth restrictions.
The state, which oversees its coastal waters up to three miles from shore, will add a new level of protection by limiting fishing in its richest marine ecosystems — coastal bays, estuaries, lagoons, kelp forests, undersea canyons, rocky reefs and seagrass beds.
The protected areas will include marine reserves where all fishing will be banned, and marine parks and conservation areas that will allow some forms of sport fishing.
All the restricted zones are designed to harbor rockfish, abalone, shellfish and other species that stay in one area, rather than migratory fish such as salmon and tuna. Sea otters and other marine mammals are expected to benefit from the increased food supply.
Governments worldwide have been creating marine sanctuaries with various levels of restrictions for the past 40 years.
In June, President Bush created the world’s biggest protected marine area in the northwestern Hawaiian Islands, covering 140,000 square miles of largely uninhabited islands, atolls and coral reefs where commercial fishing will be phased out over the next five years.
Similar efforts are under way overseas. Australia created a network of marine reserves on the Great Barrier Reef last year. And South Africa and New Zealand are working on plans to protect their coastal fisheries.
Advocates of marine reserves point to studies showing they lead to more productive fisheries, bigger fish and greater biodiversity.
‘‘The long-term benefits are enhanced fisheries and more stability’’ because fish have safe havens in which to reproduce, said Steve Gaines, who directs the Marine Science Institute at the University of California, Santa Barbara.
The Marine Life Protection Act of 1999 authorized the creation of marine reserve networks along California’s 1,100-mile coastline, but the plan was shelved due to lack of funding. In 2004, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger resurrected the program after four conservation foundations offered $7 million.
After two years of negotiations between fishermen, conservationists and coastal residents, the Fish and Game Commission voted in August for a plan to create 29 marine protected areas off the Central Coast. The commissioners are expected to give final approval early next year after environmental studies are completed.
Conservation groups had sought even greater restrictions, but were generally pleased with the outcome. The process left many fishermen embittered.
‘‘They felt betrayed by the process. They felt that all their input was ignored,’’ said Bob Fletcher, who heads the Sportfishing Association of California. ‘‘We’re not opposed to some marine protected areas. We’re opposed to the magnitude and severity of these networks.’’
Negotiations are expected to be even more contentious when the state begins drawing up plans for the more intensely fished northern and southern California coasts.
In the Central Coast port of Morro Bay, Darby Neil is worried about the fate of Virg’s Landing, the charter boat operator his grandfather started more than 40 years ago. He says the state’s increasingly restrictive fishing regulations are already straining his family’s oncebooming sportfishing business.
An aerial view of the Elkhorn Slough State Marine Reserve in Moss Landing, Calif., shows one of protected areas where fishing is banned or severely restricted in California.
Fishermen David Crabble, Mike Ricketts and Rob Aliotti, from left, discuss how a proposed expansion of marine protected areas will affect their industry in Monterey, Calif.