Marine Protected Areas have been 13 years in making
More than 13 years after state law required the creation of a network of Marine Protected Areas along the California coast and after more than three years of planning their placement on the North Coast, the MPAs go into effect in less than two weeks.
On Dec. 19, roughly 137 square miles north of Point Arena will be subject to new regulations, limiting fishing in some places and prohibiting it in others.
Supporters say that the statewide network of MPAs will restore California’s depleted fisheries.
“Studies show that these areas allow fish to grow larger, stay healthier and reach greater abundance and diversity,” reads the website of Ocean Conservancy, a nonprofit environmental group that was a strong proponent of California’s MPAs. “Fish thrive in these protected areas, then move out into other parts of the ocean and replenish weaker populations.”
Critics say that the MPAs will hurt commercial fishermen by keeping them out of long-used fishing spots.
James “Bernie” Lindley, president of Brookings Fishermen’s Marketing Association, said that commercial fishermen from Port of Brookings-Harbor are concerned about the Pyramid Point State Marine Conservation Area, which covers the area within three miles of the coast from just north of the mouth of the Smith River to the Oregon/California border. That MPA prohibits the taking of all marine resources in this zone, including Dungeness crab.
“That’s our traditional grounds for the Port of Brookings-Harbor. For a lot of our commercial fishermen, that’s our go-to spot,” Lindley said. He estimated that 3- to 4,000 crab traps are typically deployed in the Pyramid Point SMCA. Lindley also questioned why Oregon fishermen with California commercial fishing licenses weren’t involved in the planning process for the MPAs.
Members of the North Coast Regional Stakeholders Group celebrate the collaboration and compromise that went into creating a proposal for MPAs that not everyone involved was happy with, but that everyone could live with.
It was the only such group that delivered a single unified proposal for consideration to the California Fish and Game Commission. The commission unanimously approved the unified proposal in June.
The California Department of Fish and Game has developed a mobile website that can be used to precisely locate MPAs: www.dfg.ca.gov/m/MPA.
Full descriptions of North Coast MPAs can be found at www.dfg.ca.gov/mlpa/ncmpas_list.asp.
In order to gauge the effect of the MPAs, monitoring is key, and the first step of monitoring is to establish a benchmark or baseline data of the health and condition of the areas and the socio-economic conditions of the communities near them. About $4 million has been allocated for this task.
The MPA Monitoring Enterprise is working on creating a team of three to five North Coast Community Liaisons, which will gather community input to aid in the development of Baseline Program proposals.
With the help of this team, the MPA Monitoring Enterprise hopes to release a draft Request for Proposals in the late winter or early spring, which will be open to public comment for a few weeks after release.
Once the final RFP is released, organizations will have 14-16 weeks to submit proposals. In other regions of California, this window was only eight weeks long, but it was expanded after people requested more time.
Traditional ecological knowledge, specifically from North Coast Indian tribes, will be taken into account in the development of the Baseline Program.