California Assemblywoman proposes MPA enforcement bill

By: Parimal M. Rohit

SACRAMENTO — Fish where you are not allowed to fish and you will be punished. This time, they could really be cracking down on recreational anglers broaching protect waters.

An assemblywoman from San Diego proposed a bill in Sacramento last month could make it easier for state officials to enforce Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) and address illegal fishing in protected waters off the California coast.

Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego) introduced Assembly Bill 298 (AB 298) Feb. 12 in an effort to ensure state officials are properly equipped to protect portions of the California coast where anglers have not been allowed to fish since MPAs were created in 1999.

“Despite the best efforts of law enforcement, we’ve too often seen a lack of public resources lead to under-enforcement that encourages poachers to flaunt laws to protect the ocean environment,” Gonzalez said in a statement. “This legislation will give law enforcement an additional tool to hold poachers accountable and better protect California’s marine life and the health of the larger ocean ecosystem.”

AB 298 proposes to give Department of Fish and Wildlife (DFW) officers and lifeguards the power to issue a citation to anyone who treks into an MPA and poaches fish. The citations would function similar to a traffic ticket and give city and district attorneys an opportunity to dedicate resources to pursuing other, more serious crimes.

Violators would be slapped with a fine between $100 and $1,000 for a first-time infraction.

“This bill would make a violation of a specified regulation relating to marine protected areas, marine managed areas, and special closures, an infraction or a misdemeanor,” a portion of the proposed law stated.

State legislators passed a law in 1999 to create MPAs and protect marine wildlife from overfishing and other harmful activities. There are 124 protected areas in California’s coastal network. According to Gonzalez’s staff, MPAs cover about 16 percent of the state’s coastal region.

Gonzalez added AB 298 is necessary because illegal fishing still occurs in MPAs despite prevention efforts. The state has not prosecuted several misdemeanor offenses committed with the MPAs, Gonzalez added.

The bill was referred Feb. 23 to an Assembly committee.

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