New California Central Coast MPA Network goes into effect
September 24 2007 |
by Surfrider Foundation
New fishing restrictions may be hard to enforce
Central coast protection areas vital to future of marine life, scientists say
By Denis Cuff, STAFF WRITER
Inside Bay Area
Article Last Updated: 9/21/07
California tackles the worldwide problem of ailing oceans in big way today when it begins restricting fishing in a new network of 29 marine protection areas along the coast from Santa Barbara to San Mateo counties.
State officials and environmentalists call the action a conservation landmark. The 29 areas are the first in a chain of preserves that will eventually dot the 1,100-mile California coast from Mexico to Oregon.
In the opening phase, fishing will be barred or restricted in 204 square miles, about 18 percent of central coast waters.
Enforcing the new restrictions will be a challenge for the thinly stretched crew of state fish and game wardens.
Only one new warden captain has been added so far for the extra responsibilities in the protection areas, which cover an area four times the size of San Francisco.
State environmental regulators and conservationists say establishing the new marine areas is an important step toward protecting oceans and rebuilding ocean fish populations declining worldwide.
"No other state has such an extensive network of protected marine areas," said Warner Chabot, vice president of the Ocean Conservancy. "This is important because we're moving toward looking at the entire health of the ocean ecosystem, rather than trying to focus on just one species at a time."
The state Fish and Game Commission gave final approval to the marine areas in April after more than two years of extensive meetings by task forces, advisory committees, science panels and the public. A law calling for the marine areas passed in 1999.
There are three types of marine protection areas, each with varying restrictions.
In marine reserves, fishing or harvesting of plants is banned. Marine conservation areas allow fishing but with restrictions. Marine parks allow recreational but not commercial fishing.
The goal is to protect habitat for fish, shellfish, birds, seals and plants in the biologically rich three-mile zone of state waters off the coast.
Ocean areas three miles from shore — the zone of state jurisdiction — provide important breeding and feeding areas for many fish because they are rich in sunlight and nutrients.
Several types of increasingly scarce rockfish, commonly labeled as red snapper in grocery stores, will benefit especially protections along the central coast areas, state officials say.
Some rockfish stay near a single rock pile their entire lives and produce far more young at age 50 than in their first decade of life. Letting the fish reach old age will speed the species' recovery, scientists say.
In months of public meetings, some commercial and fishermen have grumbled the restrictions will hurt their activities in the 29 areas.
But the hit on commercial fishing in the Central Coast will be modest, less than $1 million annually out of some $13.6 million a year for the industry, suggests a study for the environmental impact report on the new areas.
Little commercial salmon fishing is done in the first 29 marine protection areas, but many fishermen catch salmon in areas under study for protection zones from Pigeon Point in San Mateo County to Point Arena in Mendocino County.
Zeke Grader, executive director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations, said he thinks the new protection areas can benefit some fish, but they fail to address the serious problem of pollution.
"You can't protect the ocean just by drawing circles around parts of it and saying no fishing is allowed," he said.
Chamois Andersen, a state spokesman for the marine protection areas, said the new areas will be a big step toward understanding how to keep the ocean healthy.
"One of our major missions is making these areas research sites so we understand how to conserve and protect them," Andersen said.
Teams of state and federal scientists, as well as volunteer fishermen, will collect data about fish, birds, animals, plants and water quality to monitor the health of the ocean protection areas.
Also, remote-controlled submarines are being used to map the ocean floor so changes can monitored, she said.
Some fishermen say the new protections can help the marine environment, but they worry there aren't enough state fish and game wardens to enforce them.
"The number of wardens along the coast is woefully inadequate and now we're asking them to enforce new regulations in these areas," said Dan Wolford, science adviser spokesman for the Coastside Fishing Club, which represents recreational fishermen up and down the state.
"We think this is going to greatly complicate the wardens' jobs," he said.
State officials say they will provide adequate manpower to enforce fishing the new restrictions, but they acknowledge it won't be easy.
"Yes, it will be challenging, but we're ready to do the job," said Capt. Brian Naslund, the state Department of Fish and Game enforcement liaison for the new marine protection areas. "We have staff that is already patrolling these waters. We're just going to be going out in the ocean more."
Naslund said his department has six long-range boats and many smaller vessels to enforce fishing regulations in state waters as well as federal waters farther out.
But equipment breakdowns and a chronic shortage of wardens, who are paid less than police and highway patrol officers, reduces the time the boats can spend out of sea.
Two of the six long-range vessels are in port in need of repairs, state officials say.
Grader of the Federation of Fishermen's Association, a voice of commercial fishermen, said he worries patrols in other waters will suffer as the warden force shifts people to patrol the 29 protection areas.
"I think we will have plenty of enforcement because everyone's eyes are on this new program. It's popular," Grader said. "But I worry you're going to have more poaching and abuse of the natural resources elsewhere."
State officials said they will juggle wardens' patrols to ensure enforcement doesn't suffer.
Eight more warden jobs allocated for the extra duties in marine protection areas will be filled as more protection areas go into effect, said Steve Martarano, a state fish and game spokesman.
Also, there will be extra "eyes and ears" on the water to detect and report poachers because many state and federal scientists and volunteers will be doing research to monitor the impact of the protection zones, he said.
Contact reporter Denis Cuff at 925-943-8267 or firstname.lastname@example.org.