Calif. Expands Marine Reserves
May 1, 2007 11:40 AM
There’s no doubt about it, the oceans’ fragile ecosystems are in jeopardy. Over-fishing and pollution leave some scientists fearful that the myriad aquatic life abound in the seven seas will soon be nothing but seaweed and jellyfish.
When the California Fish and Game Commission voted on April 13 to expand 200 square miles of marine reserves along California’s central coastline, it set a precedent for the rest of the country.
The unanimous decision signified the first statewide effort in the nation to attempt the preservation of such an expansive region. The 29 scattered reserves set to be incorporated into marine protected areas span from Santa Barbara County to Half Moon Bay. The plans aim to replenish waning fish populations and restore the upset of ecosystems caused by over-fishing.
While the initiatives will not tackle the detrimental impact of pollution and ocean acidification, some say that imposing fishing restrictions and bans is a step in the right direction.
Professor Sarah Cohen, who teaches classes on molecular conservation and marine ecology at SF State’s Tiburon campus, said that regardless of pollution, if over-fishing continues there will not be much left to catch.
“As the population decreases the fishermen actually try harder and put more effort into getting the fish,” she said. “If they’re putting more effort and getting fewer fish, then you know there’s really fewer fish.”
But the fact that the plans do not attack the injurious issues on all fronts leaves people in the fishing industry feeling cause for concern.
“If we are going to protect our oceans, we can’t ignore everything else,” said Zeke Grader, executive director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fisherman’s Associations. “I’m a little bit afraid that some conservation groups are looking for easy answers. [The plan] isn’t any good unless we address the other issues.”
Additionally, the plans may have repercussions for the fishermen whose livelihood depends on the catch-of-the-day.
“For some fisheries the impact will be negligible,” said Grader. “But for others it can be the whole of their fisheries.”
According to Ocean Conservancy, the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA), passed in 1999, served as the impetus for the recent move toward expansion. Shortly after the introduction of the MLPA, its plans to implement marine reserves along California’s entire coast were put on hold because of budget and staff deficiencies. The goal was not revived until 2004.
The current plans for the new reserves include an absolute fishing ban in 8 percent of the protected waters. Limited commercial and recreational fishing will be permitted in the remaining portion of the preserves. The specific rules will vary at each reserve site.
The restrictions, which will include bottom-trawling fishing, are set to go into effect in August.
“I think that the Fish and Game Commission made this decision because it was the necessary one to make,” said SF State professor Jonathon Stillman, who teaches animal physiology. “Scientific research has shown that we have declining coastal marine populations and that marine reserves have been effective in reversing those declines in other parts of the world.”
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