Byline: Eston Ellis
Sunday (Jan. 1) was the first day of enforcement for new Marine Protected Areas in Southern California, established under procedures set forth by California’s Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) initiative. The new no-take zones prohibit fishing along 15 percent of the coast, including many long-popular fishing spots.
Is there any chance the Marine Protected Areas could eventually disappear, and that legal fishing will return at productive areas off Laguna Beach, La Jolla and many other now off-limits hot spots?
The zones are officially described as temporary. In fact, local activists in Laguna Beach, a community whose city council actually requested that its coastline be closed to fishing during the MLPA South Coast Region MPA meetings, referred to the closure as a “time out.” Fishing could eventually be allowed again in some of those Marine Protected Areas, if future studies prove that fish populations have recovered significantly.
But that is the “future” — and the future is uncertain.
Right now, sportfishing groups are doing their best to fight the MLPA closures in court. Many stakeholder participants in the MLPA process for the South Coast Region believe that Marine Protected Areas were designated arbitrarily, and input from the public was largely ignored — despite numerous meetings attended by hundreds of participants from throughout Southern California. If sportfishing organizations can prove that in court, the present no-fishing zones might be thrown out, and the long process to determine where to put no-fishing zones would, presumably, begin all over again.
Currently, enforcement of the new no-fishing zones is providing a challenge for the Department of Fish and Game. Even though miles and miles of new no-fishing areas have just been created, the department has been given no extra funds or personnel to patrol Marine Protected Areas or enforce no-fishing regulations.
In 2009, it was reported that the California Department of Fish and Game had the fewest enforcement officers per capita of any state in the U.S. And with the state’s current budget woes, it is almost a certainty that those ranks will get smaller before they get larger.
In Laguna Beach, volunteers are being sought to “help out” by immediately reporting any violations they see, providing an unofficial citizens’ patrol of the local MPA. Hopefully, those and any other “concerned citizens” on patrol will be able to distinguish between a boat involved in illegal sportfishing and a boat that is simply cruising along the coast. Otherwise, MPA enforcement might get even more time-consuming — and expensive.