While marine life conservationists along the central coast are shouting for joy, fishermen in the area could soon be shouting less happy things, as the California Fish and Game Commission may name the local shoreline a ‘no fishing zone’ in the near future.
In response to a noticeable recent decrease in local fish populations, a proposal to classify 200 miles of coastline between Santa Barbara and Half Moon Bay as “Marine Protected Areas” (MPAs) – where most recreational fishing would be illegal – may go into effect early next year, pending final approval of the plan by Fish and Game commissioners.
If passed, about 94 of the 200 miles would be designated as state reserve areas, where almost all recreational and commercial fishing would be outlawed, according to the commission’s website. The remainder of the coastline would also limit most fishing to a minimum, leaving only a few designated spots for the area’s fishermen to look for catch.
FGC President Michael Flores said he hopes the proposal will be a guide for future projects aimed at conserving California’s wildlife populations.
“The commission’s preferred proposal will serve as a model for future conservation efforts and as a legacy in protecting our coastline,” Flores said.
However, locals in the fishing community who rely on fisheries along this part of the coastline for income have expressed concerns about how the plan could affect many aspects of their lives.
David Bacon, captain of WaveWalker Charters – a Santa Barbara Harbor-based business that takes locals and tourists on a boat tour of the area’s waters while educating them about local marine life – said many Santa Barbara fishermen are worried about the impact that classifying the local coast as an MPA could have on their livelihood.
“When an MPA is implemented, the recreational fishing community loses something very valuable: productive fishing spots,” Bacon said. “For example, along the central coast of California, 8 percent of the area will be closed to fishing, however that 8 percent is roughly half of the productive hard-bottom area, so the impact on the fishing community is devastating.”
Ken Peterson, a representative for the Center for the Future of the Oceans at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, said that while it is regrettable that the MPA will create a hardship for fishermen, he believes the environment and the economy will ultimately benefit in the long run.
“We are not downplaying the pain that they may feel,” Peterson said. “We believe, however, that there is ample science out there that supports everyone being in better shape economically and environmentally for the long term.”
According to Bacon, many past efforts to save an ocean-dwelling animal species threatened with extinction have been successful. Because of this, Bacon said, other, less drastic answers to the local problem should be substituted for the Fish and Game Commission’s legislation.
“I am not convinced that MPAs are needed for fisheries management,” he said. “We have brought back numerous species – white sea bass, halibut, lingcod, sardines, and others – to abundance using tried and true traditional fisheries management methods,” Bacon said.
Bacon said the FCG could consider other options to replenish the area’s fisheries, rather than simply making commercial fishing illegal in the area. He said efforts to attract fish to unprotected areas – by creating artificial reefs, for instance – should have been implemented long before the FCG decided to consider creating new MPAs.
“As a form of mitigation, new artificial reefs (including Rigs-to-Reefs) should be constructed in an area where fishing is permissible,” Bacon said. “These new reefs should be equal to hard-bottom areas being set aside as MPA and the new reefs should be built and allowed to mature before a new MPA is designated.”
Bacon said that not only would creating MPAs along the local coastline negatively impact the lives of many fishermen, but doing so may not even be necessary to save ocean wildlife.
“New surveys and data collection tools, such as the California Recreational Fisheries Survey, are showing ground fish stocks to be in much better shape than previously thought,” he said. “So MPAs are not needed to save our fish.”