Scientists say Marine Protected Areas are benefiting fish biomass

SAN DIEGO — Fish biomass are increasing inside and immediately outside California’s extensive network of Marine Protected Areas, or MPAs.

This was one of the takeaways from a Dec. 7 presentation updating the state’s Fish and Game Commission (FGC) on the current state of MPAs.

Commissioners are scheduled to conduct its official 5-year review of the MPA at its April 2017 meetings. FGC staff is currently working on a “State of the Region” report, which would be presented to commissioners at the upcoming spring meetings.

Jennifer Caselle, a research biologist with UC Santa Barbara, told commissioners the California MPA network is the world’s largest. She described MPAs as an ecosystem management tool intended to protect and restore marine habitat and infrastructure.

“The resulting network of marine protected areas in California [is] definitely the largest scientific designed network in the United States and globally. California is a … global leader,” Caselle said.

She added areas outside local MPAs are not subject to overfishing or other resource losses.

“One of the biggest fears stakeholders and others had was that there would be some sort of compaction and overfishing in the outside areas, potentially damaging a lot of resources,” Caselle told commissioners. “We did not see this in our monitoring.”

While the status update of Southern California’s MPA network was mostly positive, Caselle said scientists and environmentalists did have one major concern: the invasion of Devil Weed (Sargassum horneri) in local waters. The Asian alga was introduced into local waters in 2003, when it was first found in Long Beach Harbor. Devil Weed is a threat to near-shore kelp forests, according to Caselle.

“It has spread incredibly rapidly throughout the near-shore rock habitats of Southern California,” Caselle told commissioners. “It’s blanketing areas that were once lush kelp forests. This is a big concern.”

The South Coast MPA Region was adopted by the FGC in 2010 and stretches from the U.S.-Mexico Border in San Diego to Pt. Conception near Lompoc. There are 50 protected areas and two special closures within the network.

Ocean Science Trust will be hosting a series of community meetings to discuss monitoring results ahead of the FGC’s April 2017 meetings. Meetings will be held in Santa Barbara, Malibu, Los Angeles, Orange County and San Diego. Specific dates for each community meeting have not yet been announced.

The presentation of the formal 5-year review in the spring will serve as an endpoint to the current baseline monitoring process. Benét Duncan of Ocean Science Trust said the review process is currently in the synthesizing and sharing of data phase.

State officials and scientists presented the MPA update at the FGC’s Dec. 7 meeting in San Diego.

FGC staff and commissioners will conducted its 5-year review of Southern California’s MPAs at its April 26 and 27 meetings in Los Angeles.

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