California’s marine habitats have received a big boost from new regulations which have banned or restricted fishing across a range of about 350 square miles. The new regulations come ten years after the creation of the California Marine Life Protection Act. This law was passed because of the degradation of various marine habitats, to the point where life might not have been sustainable in those habitats. What follows is an interview about the new conservation regulations with Zack Bradford, an ocean policy analyst with the Monterey Bay Aquarium.
The California Fish and Game Commission recently restricted fishing in 49 areas of California’s coastal waters. Why did they do this?
The Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) that have now been designated along the Central Coast, North Central Coast and South Coast regions of California are not a blanket ban on fishing; only some of these MPAs are fully-protected “marine reserves” where fishing is prohibited. These MPAs are designated depending on the degree of restrictions as either State Marine Reserves (SMRs), which prohibit commercial and recreational fishing; State Marine Conservation Areas (SMCAs), which generally allow some form of commercial or recreational take; State Marine Parks (SMPs), which may allow recreational fishing but generally do not permit commercial fishing; and State Marine Recreational Management Areas (SMRMAs), which may limit or restrict take of marine resources.
The MPAs along California’s coast were created in order to protect California’s living marine resources – its fish, shellfish, kelp, and other marine life – in perpetuity, not only to allow the recovery of certain fish populations, but to also protect entire ecosystems for future generations of Californians.
What species live in these now protected areas, and why do they need protection?
The number of species living in these protected areas is almost too many to count. But it’s not the individual species that were the driver for creating these MPAs; these MPAs were designed to protect the entire ecosystem. That’s why these areas restrict take of all marine life, not just certain species. That being said, there are a number of fish species in California, most notably many species of rockfish, that have been depleted over the years, and which will benefit from these protected areas. Setting aside areas where these fish are safe from fishing will allow populations to rebound as they will allow fish to get older and larger, and thus produce more young — young which will spread to areas outside the reserves.
What are some of the worst threats to California’s marine life?
The threats facing our ocean today are almost too many to count; they include things like overfishing, coastal development, pollution, habitat damage, and of course climate change. Of these, climate change may prove to be the worst threat to California’s coastal waters and oceans around the world.
How significant is the ban, and how will it be enforced?
For the South Coast Study Region, the Marine Protected Areas cover approximately 8 percent of the region’s state waters (not including the MPAs around the Channel Islands – with those MPAs the total percentage is 15 percent). About 4.9 percent of state waters in the region are now no-take areas (11.7 percent with the Channel Islands MPAs). Compliance with the restrictions of each MPA will be enforced by the California Department of Fish and Game.
Related: Safe, Sustainable Fish
Do you believe the ban will be forever, or just until there is enough of a rebound to lift it?
Just as with state and national parks on land, these Marine Protected Areas are designed to remain in perpetuity. The goal was not just to allow rebound of certain species, but to protect whole ecosystems for future generations.
Are there particular types of California fish or other marine creatures Californians should not be catching or eating?
The Seafood Watch program at the Monterey Bay Aquarium provides guides on which kinds of fish are sustainable and which are not. Many types of rockfish in California, for example, are on the “red” or “avoid” list, while species like halibut and sardines are on the “green” or “best choices” list.
Does the ban affect any members of the public immediately?
The MPAs designated in the South Coast Region will go into effect in mid 2011 after appropriate regulatory filings. The MPAs in the Central Coast went into effect in 2007, and the MPAs in the North Central Coast went into effect in 2010.
How long will it take before the ban’s impact on restoring species can be measured?
The extent of the impact of designating new MPAs will depend on the lifespans and behaviors of the species being measured. Some species reproduce at a young age and grow fairly quickly; thus any impact on those species would be measurable within a few years. Other species, such as some rockfish, grow very slowly and reproduce later in life, and any measurable impact on them may take decades.
Are there some people out there who deliberately ignore such bans and take fish, crab, and crustaceans anyway?
Yes, unfortunately. These people are called “poachers” and whenever they are caught they are prosecuted according to the appropriate Fish and Game regulations that they have violated.
Are there fines for commercial fishing outfits that break the rules?
Yes. Regulations vary, but commercial and recreational fishers can be fined, and fines increase for repeat offenders.
Image Credit: Andrew Chen