Byline: Associated Press/Jason Dearen
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — California has put the finishing touches on a vast network of protected areas that dot the sea from Mexico to the Oregon border, with the designation of another group of ocean protection zones.
On June 6, the California Fish and Game Commission voted unanimously to approve the new zones off the state’s far north coast, from Point Arena in Mendocino County to the Oregon border, where fishing is restricted or banned outright in areas.
“We are poised to return California’s marine resources to the sustainable abundance we all once enjoyed,” said Richard Rogers, a commission member from Santa Barbara. He appeared to be choking up with emotion as he cast his vote, after more than seven years of work on the project.
The idea behind imposing these zones is that by making certain areas off limits to fishing, or restricting it to certain species in others, struggling marine species might rebound and create a more robust fishery and ecosystem. According to commissioners, the approach has been used with success in other areas including Thunder Bay in Lake Huron and the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.
California divided its coastline into regions that were evaluated for protection by scientists, anglers environmentalists and ordinary citizens. Marine Protected Areas were previously approved for the central and southern coasts, although some participants in the public hearing process said the commissioners ignored public input and did not rely on scientific data when determining the no-fishing zones.
Officials next set their sights on San Francisco Bay to create protection zones.
On the state’s far northern coast, American Indian tribes voiced concerns about the new protection zones’ effect on their traditional fishing and gathering. The commission reached a compromise with some tribes, saying if they could provide records of their historic fishing practices they could be exempted from some restrictions.
For the Yurok tribe, the largest in California, the approved plan was unacceptable. A number of its elders appeared before the commission to warn them that tribe members would not allow their gathering activities to be stopped.
“We are hunters, fishers and gatherers and we have lived here since time immemorial — and gathered on these shores forever, since the creator put us here,” David Gensaw Sr., a member of the Yurok Tribal Council, told the commission. “We’re here today to tell you that we need that subsistence, and we will continue to provide our people with that nourishment,” he said.
Conservation groups hailed the commission’s actions as a big win for marine life and said that it bodes well for California’s troubled sea ecosystem.
However, Zeke Grader, executive director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, said banning or restricting fishing in these areas only addresses one of myriad issues with the marine environment. He said pollution caused by urban runoff is a major factor affecting marine life, and the new protection zones do nothing to solve that problem.
“If we’re going to have Marine Protected Areas, let’s make sure they’re in fact protected and not just some feel-good regulations about no fishing,” he said.