I am writing in response to Mr. Kenyon Hensel’s Coastal Voices opinion piece (“MLPA: reasons to protest,” July 7).
Mr. Hensel paints a rather bleak picture of the Marine Life Protection Act (laws passed by the California Legislature in 1999) that doesn’t accurately describe what is actually taking place in the process to designate marine protected areas along our coastline.
I have played a part in this process since November 2009 when a local group of interested fishermen and concerned citizens first started working to create an external array of MPAs that would protect pristine fisheries habitat and not jeopardize our local commercial fishing economy.
From that time on, Mr. Hensel’s ideas and concerns have been listened to and taken seriously. The 10-mile safety zone from Crescent City Harbor is but one of those ideas. As a stakeholder in the North Coast Region MLPA process, I can guarantee you that no serious proposals have been “slipped in at the last moment,” but have been seriously discussed by stakeholders with advice from the Science Advisory Team.
I don’t think that the MLPA end result is something to be afraid of as Mr. Hensel would like us to believe. A case in point is the Wilson Rock Marine Conservation Area, (WRMCA), extending from Wilson Rock, just south of Wilson Creek, to the mouth of the Klamath River. First of all, this area is 10.5 miles south of Crescent City Harbor, just out of the 10-mile safety zone. Also, Mr. Hensel’s claim that the WRMCA will cost Crescent City fishermen $150,000-$350,000 annually is simply not true by any stretch of the imagination. Ecotrust data simply does not support this claim.
I have examined public information of the state Department of Fish and Game which shows the sales receipts for groundfish jig-fishing in the Crescent City Harbor from the years 2000 to 2008. (Groundfish includes more than 90 species of bottom-dwelling marine species such as rockfish (60 species), sablefish, lingcod, black cod, Dover sole, thorny heads and other flatfish.) The total groundfish sales in Crescent City (not including drag fishing) range from $252,697 in 2000, increasing to $575,500 in 2008.
These are significant sales that we would like to see continue in perpetuity. The range of habitat where these fish are caught extends from the mouth of the Klamath River to Point St. George. Of the approximately 72 square-miles of groundfish habitat in Del Norte County, the WRMCA would protect only nine square miles.
If a likely 6–10 percent of the total catch is from the WRMCA, the overall total cost to local commercial fishermen is $21,500–$35,900 annually. If 25 percent of the overall catch comes from this small area, the total cost would reach $89,750. This may be considered a significant loss, but nothing close to the grand figures that Mr. Hensel is claiming. This loss diminishes even further when one considers the positive economic benefits of the MLPA.
The purpose of the Marine Life Protection Act is to protect diverse marine habitat such as intertidal zones, rocky reefs, sandy or soft ocean bottoms, kelp forests, sea grass beds, submarine canyons and seamounts, which will be policed by DFG game wardens. There are many positive economic reasons for doing so.
The best science shows that older, more mature groundfish produce higher quantities of young and take years to reach reproductive maturity. By leaving these species alone to repopulate in their natural setting, the $575,500 annual 2008 sales of groundfish may increase over the years. Local fishermen will be able to fish the edges of the conservation and reserve areas, which could prove to be an economic boon in future years. We won’t know until we try it.
Marine protected areas have been established in many countries throughout the world. South Africa, New Zealand and Australia are reporting economic benefits of fishing the periphery of their protected habitat. The Channel Islands of Southern California have shown an increase of fish populations that fishermen are now benefiting from. Let’s give the Marine Life Protection Act a chance to work for the benefit of all in our own coastal waters.
Don Gillespie is a member of the North Coast Regional Stakeholders Group and a Crescent City resident.