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Karen Garrison’s Blog

Just in time for the holidays: new MPAs a gift to Southern California's Seas

Karen Garrison

Posted December 17, 2010

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On December 15th, California’s Fish and Game Commission adopted a network of safe havens for ocean wildlife along the coastline of southern California under the state’s visionary Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA).  The adopted plan—the “Integrated Preferred Alternative” (IPA)—will create the nation’s first network of underwater parks adjacent to a major urban area.   These new marine protected areas are designed to help restore and protect some of the most loved—and most heavily used—oceans habitats in all of California.   

La Jolla Tide Pools

We need only look at the northern Channel Islands, (where marine reserves have been in place since 2003) for proof that these protected areas work.  Scientists who conducted a five-year review of monitoring at the Channel islands testified at the Dec. 15th hearing that they found fish to be larger and more abundant in marine reserves than in fished areas nearby.  Recent research shows those benefits are spilling over to surrounding areas.  These findings echo those from marine reserves around the world.  Unfounded predictions of declines in recreational fishing activity around the islands simply did not occur.  

The MLPA planning effort has sparked an outpouring of public support from elected officials, local businesses, community organizations and scientists. Over 30 southern California legislators—Republicans and Democrats—have gone on record supporting a strong conservation plan, reflecting broad popular support for protected areas along the south coast.  Long-time fisherman and diver Bill Weinerth has watched as sea life has grown smaller and scarcer along the south coast. “I’m convinced that if we want to pass our fishing traditions on to the next generation, we’ve got to take steps to restore our ocean to health,” he says. 

This new network will link with those already established along the central coast, from Mendocino County to Santa Barbara County.  The south coast decision brings California close to its historic goal of creating the first biologically-based statewide network of marine protected areas in the nation. The IPA plan reflects public input from nearly 100 open meetings and tens of thousands of public comments.

California’s magnificent underwater habitats—kelp forest nurseries, underwater canyons, corals and sponges, pinnacles and rocky reefs—are every bit as varied and dramatic as those found on land.  The MLPA provides our best opportunity to preserve the beauty and bounty of southern California’s iconic ocean places.   A well-designed necklace of protected ocean gems can help marine ecosystems thrive for years to come.

Shining Kelp
Photo © Clinton Bauder

The IPA is a very lean network—it has gaps and will provide less protection for ocean ecosystems than a stronger conservation-oriented plan.  But the IPA reflects carefully considered compromises, balancing the benefits of protection with the goal of minimizing immediate impacts on people who fish.  And it includes biologically rich habitats like Naples Reef, Point Dume underwater canyon, Laguna Beach tide pools and South La Jolla kelp forests.  Scientific studies find that safeguarding such “engines of productivity” will help spread the benefits of protected areas beyond their boundaries. 

I am proud to say the Commissioners made history on December 15, 2010.  All over the world, accessible nearshore areas are the first to be depleted. By creating a comprehensive network of safe havens along its whole coastline, California has chosen to buck that trend and invest in restoration instead.  That’s good news for ocean life, and a vital legacy of hope for future generations.

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Dave FishermanDec 17 2010 09:59 PM

Lets just say this is not over yet
* Lack of funding for the necessary monitoring and enforcement of MPA regulations – a $40 million annual price tag.
* Negative economic impact of closures to saltwater recreational fishing, which contributes $2.3 billion to California’s economy annually and supports nearly 20,000 jobs.
* Major flaws in the environmental analysis of the impacts of the proposed South Coast regulations.
* Inconsistent and shifting guidelines throughout the process.

“The MLPA attempts to resolve a fisheries ‘crisis’ that simply does not exist. As a result of decades of successful traditional fisheries management, according to the National Marine Fisheries Service, there is not one marine fish stock currently experiencing overfishing in California’s waters,” said Gordon Robertson, Vice President of the American Sportfishing Association, a PSO member. “Simply put: fisheries management in California is working and the MPAs are not necessary.”

Tim DoolingDec 18 2010 01:36 PM

the utterly FUBAR process that led us here was so completely flawed, that there will be court battles into eternity on this.

I am a lifelong commercial and sport fisherman, and me and my ilk have a stronger interest in healthy conservation than any of those kids you bussed into the DFG meetings (cmon....what was that all about??)

There is a right way, and a wrong way.....if it was done transparently there would not be a need for the upcoming litigation.....believe me, my pockets are not deep, but one way or another I am going to be feeding lawyers money is that good for anybody except the lawyer?

In summary, conservation is good, MLPA's are good, but politics is BAD, and when something BAD is invlolved in the creation of something good, it is doomed to failure.

I wish the hardcore conservation/idealists would only listen to other viewpoints, they might just learn something, and we would not be in the legal limbo that we are going to be in. I know as a fact that the fishermen of southern california have spent more time/effort on the water observing fish and understanding them, than all the scientists involved in this process combined by a factor of 1000. All the reports on the website, product of millions of grants and 10's of thousands of "scientists", or the generations of knowledge resident in this community.....

One guy I know summed it up best with: "Dang scientist can't catch a fish and immediately reckons it's not there....spend 100 years soaking a dead bait on the NW Corner in a cold uphill current and he'll think there's no fish in the sea!

Zachary MarkDec 18 2010 04:15 PM

Everybody get a pen and a piece of paper. Draw a line down the center. One one side, list out the pro-MLPA arguments. List out the cons on the other side. Now the fun starts:

1. Cross-out all the emotionally-based arguments.

2. Cross-out all the politically-based arguments.

3. Now study the remaining arguments. These are the rationally-based ones. Critical thought, objective analysis, evidence... This is what the MLPA decision-making process was supposed to be looking at.

4. Note the lack of scientific justification, the lack of enforcement funds, and the economic blow to state fishing commerce. Add in the mountains of continuing legal costs, the fact that California is dangerously in debt, and that we're in the midst of a recession.

5. Ask yourself why no one had a pen and a piece of paper during the MLPA-process. Or maybe it's easier just thinking you're right all the time instead of carrying around a pen and a piece of paper?

francesca koeDec 20 2010 02:03 PM

I think it is terrific that SoCal adopted a plan that manifests many collective ideas and a range of input. I applaud everyone who has actively participated in the process (as painful as it may seem to many of us.) As a consumptive freediver and a stakeholder from a previous study region (the NCC) I know how hard, long and tough this work is.
But it is so worthwhile.

And the syndrome of "manana economics" is never going to inspire innovation or long-term productivity - which is exactly what we need right now. I think Dana Bocchco summed it up the best when she said "Our ocean is more than just a scenic backdrop for southern California—it is the bread and butter of our economy, and an integral part of our lifestyle. As a mother and a business person, I thank the Commission for protecting this vital piece of our cultural heritage."

read more here:

and here:

Meghan TigheDec 20 2010 03:38 PM

Indeed. These new MPAs are a gift to Californians up and down the coast. The process serves as an example of both compromise:

“In some instances, environmentalists got what they wanted, winning protections for a large kelp forest off Point Dume, Naples Reef in Santa Barbara County and a lengthy stretch of Laguna Beach coastline…..Fishing groups prevailed in keeping Rocky Point, a richly populated reef off Palos Verdes Peninsula, and most of the waters off La Jolla open to fishing.”,0,1895962.story

and inclusive rule-making that brought all interested parties to the table in order to achieve the common good and protect our waters.

Bob WilsonDec 20 2010 03:47 PM

I've worked on a number of MLPA process. Those who say they are based not on science haven't been paying attention. If anything the science is "diluted" by commercial and recreational interests. And, that's how it should be. And be thankful there was a process that involved the users and not just govt. officials. Sure, lack of enforcement funds is an issue but not an excuse not to do anything. Should we just prohibit hunting because we don't have enough wardens? Most people try to follow the law. Education counts a lot more than wardens. We never could afford enough wardens to have 100% coverage 24/7. We rely on those who care to report that small, small minority that cheats. And, the new MPA's can help preserve the economy that relies on utilization of resources and maybe stop that chain of one after another of healthy fisheries becoming non-productive.

Nicole LampeDec 20 2010 04:04 PM

This is a huge step forward for smart, science-based resource management in California. Single species management hasn't worked to keep our fisheries thriving, and it won't protect our precious kelp forests and reefs either. By creating underwater parks at southern California's richest ocean areas, we can protect the whole web of life and improve the health of entire ecosystems. As someone who loves to spend time on and in the water, I can't wait to see the positive changes to our ocean. We know they're coming, because the Channel Islands reserves are overflowing with life. It will be great to replicate that success on the mainland coast. Three cheers for the Commission!

Jenn EckerleDec 20 2010 06:27 PM

I am so grateful that the Fish and Game Commission has exercised vision and leadership to ensure a future of health oceans and sustainable fisheries in southern California.

With countless meetings and close to 200 hours of public testimony, I don't understand how this process could be more transparent. Representatives of fishing interests, along with conservationists, educators, scientists, and tribal representatives all had a direct influence on the development of the final map that was approved last week.

Our coastal economy, which is heavily driven by tourism and recreation, depends on a healthy ocean. People continue to talk about how expensive implementing the MLPA will be. I disagree. We must prioritize our coastal management programs and leverage our collaborative efforts through partnerships. What we cannot afford is to continue operating "business as usual" when it comes to our marine resources.

Samantha MurrayDec 20 2010 09:37 PM

Thank you, thank you, thank you to the State of California for being so brave and visionary. It's never easy to be bold. And it's inevitable that some folks will disagree with actions that really make a difference in our world--change is hard!

But here are some indisputable facts:

-MPAs work. They bring back species inside and outside MPA boundaries, here in CA, and around the world.

-the scale of the public participation in this effort is unparalleled. There have been at least 70 public meeting on the South Coast, 60 public meetings on the North Central Coast, 60 public meetings on the Central Coast, and countless hours of personal conversations "across the table" in between.

In short, California took on a process that is good for CA oceans and good for business. And they gave everyone a say.

So thanks again, California, and thanks to everyone who took the time to speak up and get their hands dirty. Fishermen, conservationists and business owners alike, I know it wasn't easy, but you made sure that everyone got heard and the outcome was fair. So my (Santa )hat's off to you, guys. Congrats.

Dave ConnellDec 22 2010 03:53 PM

How sad that so many people must suffer, lose their jobs, or suffer economic lost just so that environmental extremists can impose their will on the vast majority of ocean users.
Fish and Game, without the interference of bureaucrats, has always been able to protect our marine resources by adjusting limits, sizes and season. There is absolutely no reason for the extreme measures of closing off entire sections of the coast to public use. The entire MLPA is nothing more than a political gambit at the expense of tax payers to provide jobs for a huge number of marine biologists and bureaucrats.

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