Fish and Game Commission seeks to increase MPA enforcement

Parimal M. Rohit

FORTUNA — A new law, originally authored by an Assembly member from San Diego to strengthen enforcement measures for the state’s Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), has members of the Fish and Game Commission campaigning for more game wardens.

Assembly member Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego) introduced Assembly Bill 298 (AB 298) earlier this year to crack down on MPA violators. The bill, which was signed into law June 30, proposed to improve enforcement of illegal fishing and trapping in the state’s 124 MPAs. Specifically, the Department of Fish and Wildlife (DFW) would have the power to issue citations to anyone who illegally fishes or otherwise intrudes into a protected area.

Fish and Game Commission President Jack Baylis worried how the state would better enforce MPAs with limited resources but hoped the commission could find a way to add more game wardens.

“We don’t have enough wardens,” Baylis said at a Fish and Game Commission meeting in Fortuna, California, on Aug. 4. “They’re not compensated enough and it’s an ongoing issue. The equipment is limited.”

Commission staff acknowledged additional assistance and improved technology measures would be welcomed but pointed out the department is more equipped to manage MPAs now than ever.

Still, Fish and Game Vice President Jim Kellogg said DFW needs to continue to urge the state legislator and governor to provide more funds for game wardens so the department could properly enforce MPAs up and down the California coast.

“This has been a hard process from the very beginning,” Kellogg said, adding Florida has more than 800 wardens to enforce MPA rules, compared to about 250 to monitor California’s protected areas. “It’s all about continuing to encourage the governor and the legislature to allow us to have the funds to hire more wardens. We need to have [more than] 800 game wardens in the state of California and do the job right.”

California MPAs were created in 1999 under the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA). There are 50 MPAs in Southern California and 29 along the Central Coast.

A planned MPA for San Francisco Bay is currently on hold, according to Fish and Game Commission staff.

The commission’s responsibilities include adopting a master plan for MPAs, implementing regulations to govern the protected areas, approve regulatory adjustments to the network, enact adaptive management reviews and consider petitions to add, delete or modify an MPA.

“We have 1,100 miles of coastline with biologically different areas and socially different areas,” Mary Brittain of DFW said. “The commission has specific, discreet responsibilities associated with the network.”

The National Resource Defense Council (NRDC) presented some enforcement technology options to commissioners at their Aug. 4 meeting. Options included upgrading DFW’s record management system, analyzing spatial data to engage in predictive policing, tracking vessels with a monitoring system and using targeted radar and camera surveillance.

DFW, according to NRDC’s report, currently has an annual operating budget of $70 million to enforce its policies on land and water. The agency enforces regulations for fisheries, MPAs, pollution, wildlife, habitats and homeland security. MPA enforcement, specifically, is achieved through “a variety of enforcement technologies and collaborative partnerships,” the NRDC report stated.

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