SANTA ROSA — Anglers might not be allowed to recreationally fish in Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) for at least 10 years as the California Fish and Game Commission agreed on April 13 to contemplate keeping fishing restrictions in place within state-controlled waters.
The Marina Life Protected Area (MLPA) master plan initially called for five-year assessments of MPAs to determine how conservation efforts have progressed up and down the California coast. There was a question, however, of whether there was a pot of gold at the end of the five-year assessment. The pot of gold: recreational fishing could be restored in areas where the activity is currently banned because the waters there are environmentally protected.
Fish and Game Commission Chair Eric Sklar said no promises were made to restore recreational fishing in protected waters after the state completed a full assessment of MPAs.
“I think there was a misconception. I couldn’t find anywhere where it was stated that these areas were being protected so fishing could be restored in those areas,” Sklar said. “That may be a result, but I think it’s not a short-, medium-, or even a long-term result that fishing is likely to happen in few, if any, of these MPAs.”
Sklar added there was a call for a full assessment within five years but the realities have changed.
“It was stated in one or two places that we would do a full review in five years. It’s become clear that that isn’t biologically sensible,” Sklar said.
“We object to moving the assessment period to 10 years on a statewide basis from a regional five-year basis,” George Osborn, who spoke on behalf of the California Sportfishing League (CSL), told commissioners.
Assessing MPAs on a regional basis every five years would provide state officials and anglers a clearer picture of whether conservation efforts are progressing, Osborn said. He also asked what standards would be used to determine whether MPAs are successful under a 10-year assessment plan and if the state has the budget and funding in place to pay for the state’s efforts.
“If the MPA objectives … have been met, and fishing populations have been restored, will recreational fishing once again be allowed in areas that are now currently closed?” Osborn asked commissioners.
Jenn Eckerle, an ocean policy analyst with the Natural Resources Defense Council, said the state never promised anglers the areas currently designated for marine protection would be re-opened to recreational fishing once fish populations were restored.
“Never during the planning process did [DFW] staff or the [Fish and Game] Commission promise anyone that MPAs would be re-opened if monitoring data showed that fish populations were effectively restored,” Eckerle told commissioners. “The purpose of adaptive management, as defined in the MLPA is, ‘a management policy that seeks to improve management of biological resources, particularly in areas of scientific uncertainty,’”
Eckerle said assessing MPAs every 10 years would give state officials enough time to detect ecological trends and changes and better guide conservation efforts.
An angler from St. Helena, Calif. disagreed with Eckerle and said the state did make a commitment to re-assess MPAs within five years.
“It seems quite clear … the state said they were going to do [an assessment] in five years. Maybe it’s easier to elongate it to 10, but honestly, commissioners, the buck stops with you,” Bill Ryan said. “The thing you should want most is to give those places back to fishermen because it would have proven the value of the program.”
Ryan added 10 years could beget 20 years, and 20 years could beget 40 years, meaning anglers might never regain access to areas where fishing is currently banned.
Sklar retorted Ryan’s assessments with his interpretation of the MPAs mission and purpose.
“The MPAs were not created to increase fishing potential in those areas,” Sklar said in response to Ryan’s comments. “They were created primarily to ensure the survival of aquaculture and marine life in general, throughout our three miles we control offshore. It may be these areas are never allowed to be fished again.”
Sklar said baseline studies of the current state of MPAs would be completed and made available soon and there is funding in place to continue studying and assessing the protected coastal zones.
Commissioners will revisit MPA assessments at their June meeting.