Fishing has always been a huge part of California History. Most people across the United States are well versed on the rich history of the “Golden State”. At the forefront of it all is saltwater sport fishing. What people may not know is there has also been a long battle about conservation, particularly targeting saltwater sport and commercial fishing. We can all agree that conservation is very important, however we also have our own opinions on the subject. The truth is that sport fishing is going to drastically change in California and possibly everywhere in the years to come.
Our past mistakes have for the most part been rectified. We have seen struggling populations of whale begin to flourish and with that, fish species have followed suit. Anglers themselves truthfully lead the way in conservation, teaching others about the importance of selective harvesting and researching the best ways to help their local fisheries thrive. Mankind will always leave a footprint, everywhere we go we will be remembered, it’s in our nature to walk the earth and navigate the waters. Conservation helps us keep an eye on things. It’s a great way to improve the world we live in. The importance to this article lies within the smaller details behind the conservation cause. It is becoming more and more apparent that the MLPA (Marine Life Protection Act) has more in mind than conservation. Anglers and commercial fisherman alike are being targeted for eradication. Strong blows are being dealt to weaken any defense possible for an easier takeover of our free will to go out and catch some fish. Should things continue, this American pastime could suffer beyond repair.
California is leading the way when it comes to titanic clashes of extremes. There are the die hards that harvest everything and there are others who believe that plants are the only things that don’t have feelings when it comes to eating them. Most of us sit somewhere in the middle waiting for others to make the laws and decisions for us. When things concern sport fishing in California we have a very serious topic to discuss, the closing of approximately 509 square miles of state waters to all anglers to be exact. It all start’s with the Marine Life Protection Act that was singed into legislation in 1999.
The MLPA is a great idea turned into an obscure way of infringement. Initially the MLPA was designed to protect marine life and habitats which in turn would improve upon recreational and educational opportunities. After dividing the state into 5 regions along the 1,100 mile California coastline, this public-private partnership began to push its stranglehold on the fishing community. In 2007 the California Fish and Game Commission adopted protection act’s from the MLPA initiative in an effort to make a statewide network of restricted area’s. These act’s are proposals from private groups reviewed by a private science team and then by a policy level blue ribbon task force that makes suggestions to the California Fish and Game Commission.
Central California was the first to be hit with closures of prime fishing waters. The well funded MLPA acted swiftly, accomplishing a noteworthy first strike. In total the MLPA shut down 203.88 square miles of its fishing waters. This was only 17.73 percent of its waters, however keep in mind that the targeted waters are all productive fishing grounds. Northern California was next on the agenda for the MLPA. Just 3 years later with no proven positive results from a public company as required, somehow the MLPA managed another California Fish and Game Commission endorsed shut down of prime fishing grounds. On May 1, 2010 a total of 22 marine protected areas were added to the coast of Northern California, covering somewhere around 153 square miles (20.1%) of its regions water mass. Some may not know that amongst the vast oceans are huge pockets of almost lifeless seas. There are very few nutrient rich climates rich with life. These areas take time to discover and are prized possessions of the sport fishing world. As such treasures are discovered, they are shared with the world. Even at a glance, you will notice that these popular areas are the ones targeted by the MLPA, leaving anglers no where to go. The most common excuse heard from the MLPA in their reasoning for closing a productive area is to allow further population of regional species to the point that life spills out from them creating new areas to fish. It’s a great picture to imagine the entire coast filled with life, any angler would gladly sacrifice those few hard years to allow life to become so abundant that we could all go out anywhere and have a great day on the water. This is a great concept with only one flaw, life on the ocean floor does not work that way.
It takes a few key elements to create fertile breeding grounds for fish. These things consist of structure, nutrients and food. Quite a few years back the California Fish and Game Department along with scientists and conservationists alike planted structure on the California coast in an effort to create new life giving waters. These area’s are starting to show life, but these things take decades to get going. Some may never succeed due to the lack of enough nutrient rich current. One thing we cannot create is current, it being the one thing that makes or breaks an eco system in the ocean. With all the advances we have discovered, we are only so good at “helping” nature. Life in the ocean is located where it is because nature selected those areas. Over the last few hundred years we have discovered these grounds and cataloged them for selective harvest. It is up to us to regulate those areas so that they remain productive and thrive for the rest of time. This is the standpoint of the United Anglers of Southern California, the Coastside Fishing Club and key leader Robert C. Fletcher.
The MLPA was not all bad, back when they were created they helped put a serious halt on over fishing, while operating on a state funded budget of $250,000 a year. Since the new rule of the MLPA and an annual cost of $40 million to enforce and monitor the coast, the MLPA is using monetary resources that California simply does not have. To clarify, the MLPA is funded by a private group, the $40 million is what the state is obligated to spend to enforce the regulations adequately. The MLPA is believed to be showing the California Fish and Game Commission corrupted data, proving that there is no way to keep life in the ocean from a collapse without a shutdown of fishing, effectively turning our good intentions into a double edged sword for the state. The MLPA has been holding closed door meetings that were said to be open to the public, using “private” studies, data, and science personnel, all while ignoring statutory requirements. Unfortunately this compiled evidence on how effective the new regulations are proven to be have been kept under lock and key so that public groups cannot have them reviewed and scrutinized in the anglers defense. It’s safe to say that if ever there were a conspiracy around sport fishing, this is it. Sure there have been other efforts to hinder sport fishing throughout our long history as a united country, e.g., the ongoing battle about use of lead for fishing; none however have had such a short and successful path.
Southern California was the last part of California to be hit by the new fishing restrictions, on December 8th the future of Southern California fishing became a little darker due to the official approval of new protected waters and an enforcement date of January 1st 2012. 354 square miles are now going to sit under protection, the most significant part of the region to be hit was Malibu due to it being the birthplace of the newest form of fishing, kayak fishing. Points of interest down the coast have been significantly effected and it was the kayak angler community that made an overwhelming stand at La Jolla and Dana Point, both areas have heavy traffic from boaters and kayakers alike. Although the two spots remain open, time will tell how much pressure they will see as they are now by far the most productive fisheries left open in Southern California. It has only been a short time since the date of new restrictions was released and the smaller protesting groups of both North and South California united even stronger, adding the Partnership for Sustainable Oceans to the fight with heavy weights such as Accurate Reels, Shark Men, AFTCO, Daiwa and many more all walking the walk needed to secure a steadfast effort to protect anglers rights.
So what does all this mean? Obviously a lot of battles have been lost within California, however there is still a war brewing and everyone should be aware of its progress as the interest of these groups could very well spread to the Gulf of Texas to Florida and the Atlantic. Most likely there will always be a battle about conservation, it is up to us to decide as a people what is better for our environment by voting. The California coast future should not have been decided by a judge, or a committee, rather by the public. Matters such as these should come to a vote. True the MLPA is in place due to voting, however with no checks or balances it has become more of a monster of our own creation. No one knows how many more closures are in our future or where the battle will go next, however we can help the current issues by getting involved.
For more information and maps, go to http://www.dfg.ca.gov/mlpa/
If you would like to donate, go to http://www.savecafishing.org
Joshua “Kayak” Christensen