Back in July 2008 it was proposed that the waters from Point Conception in Santa Barbara County to the California/Mexico border should be part of a relatively new style of marine life conservation known as the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA).

The California Department of Fish and Game was, and is, optimistic about the program, based on what it deems are positive results, from testing done in other parts of the state.

The concept driving the protection act revolves around information from scientists regarding alternative methods of conservation and the replenishment of fish stocks. Rather than protecting vulnerable species solely through closures, the idea is to close off underwater geographical areas (Marine Protected Areas or MPAs) from outside intrusion, thus creating safe havens for various animals. The thought is that this manner of protection is a more natural and “ecosystem-based” approach.

According to their data, this manner of protection makes for bigger fish, stronger reproduction numbers and crowdation, which is thought to manifest itself in larger stocks.

“We’ve noticed in the past that when you just protect one thing you can end up hurting another,” said Sarah Abramson, director of coastal resources at Heal the Bay. “In an ecosystem, things all depend on one another, so the idea was to get away from a [simple closure based approach] and have some sort of a system that focuses more on the habitat and ecosystem level.”

Officials at Heal the Bay, an ocean conservation advocacy organization based in Santa Monica, were satisfied with the Fish and Game Commission’s recent 3-2 vote in favor of the Southern California MPAs, but used descriptions like “endless contentious public hearings” and “tough compromise” when describing the road to this end. They reported that the decision protects, “some key places from extractive uses, like Point Dume,” but said, “fishermen won the battle for Rocky Point.”

It’s this language that reflects the adversarial atmosphere that often exists between conservationists and fishermen, both recreational and commercial. While the groups are both after essentially the same goals, they’re often miles apart on how to achieve them.

One local commercial fisherman, Bob Bertelli, said in an interview with Southern California Public Radio that some of the data that drives the determinations to quadrant off areas is simply not correct.

“There are areas of production called source. And areas that supposedly collect the larva called sinks. But a lot of these areas are both – sources and sinks. So it’s not always clear,” he said.

Bertelli continued, “A lot of environmentalists I got to work with – we found that common ground. They understand that fishermen are not the Neanderthals like maybe they thought, and we know that not all ‘enviros’ are wackos. We basically want the same thing.”

With the decision approved, regulations are now being implemented to “reexamine and redesign its system of MPAs with the goals to, among other things, increase the effectiveness of MPAs,” according to Fish and Game. These regulations will create 36 new MPAs encompassing approximately 187 square miles of state waters. Some of these areas are deemed “no take” and others have different allowances.

While no one disputes how arduous a process this has been, it seems many see the potential of the concept.

“I fully support the approval of the Marine Protected Areas by the Fish and Game Commission,” said Marina del Rey’s Greg Schem, a member of the Blue Ribbon Task Force, a group composed of seven public leaders selected by the secretary of the California Natural Resources Agency.

“The (task force) made these recommendations to the Fish and Game Commission after hundreds of hours of meetings and deliberations and after hearing thousands of individuals provide public testimony. This was truly a groundbreaking public process, which included and considered every stakeholder’s input. These MPAs will provide the necessary relief to our over-stressed oceans and allow them a chance to recover and heal from years of overfishing and neglect.”

The approval marks the third of five study regions to complete the planning process under the MLPA. Once all five are put into practice, there will be 875 miles of waters from the California/Mexico border up to Alder Creek near Point Arena in Mendocino County that will contain these designated reserves.

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