An answer to the Marine Life Protection Act worth writing about

Casey AllenMarine Protected Areas

From the HASA 2009 Fall Newsletter

This editorial by Casey Allen was originally published in the Outdoor Writers of California October 2009 Newsletter
One of the hottest outdoor stories in California this year is the Marine Life Protection Act. Anyone following the action will see well financed, big box environmental groups taking on poor, politically inexperienced fishermen to create Marine Protected Areas with the blessing of the State. The story is full of drama, conflict, manipulation, ambition, and greed. There are plots and sub-plots, good guys and bad. Many fishermen are wondering how private organizations can conduct State business that adversely affects its citizens.

The concept of establishing Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) was fine and many fishermen supported it. A network of MPAs along the California coast were designed to close fishing and other activities so species can prosper and generate a higher population that will theoretically spill over into areas that are still open to fishing. The process of creating these underwater parks was supposed to be open and transparent and include all user groups. The size and locations were to be based on the best science available and takes into consideration socioeconomic impacts.

In reality, fishermen are finding the MLPA process is robbing them of more coastline then they realized. The process is based on a scientific concept and not actual scientific data. The work stakeholder groups invested in alternative plans was ignored. The results will not only negatively impact fishermen but the businesses that support them and the port cities they launch from.

Fishermen are fighting a Governor who wants an environmental legacy he cannot afford while at the same time is closing State Parks for budget reasons. Fishermen are faced with a decision making “Blue Ribbon Task Force” whose chairperson is a lobbyist for big oil companies (big oil?), and the Fish and Game Commission who have one member with an obvious conflict of interest by working for the environmental group funding the MPLA implementation.
Fishermen feel they are being steamrolled, that too many areas are being closed needlessly, and that California’s constitutional right to fish is threatened. Fishermen believe, especially in the North, that the MLPA is like raising taxes during a budget surplus.

The answer to this lopsided battle may be the creation of artificial reefs. It is a scientifically proven fact that artificial reefs attract and hold large numbers of fish species. The creation of a reef on an otherwise barren ocean bottom could easily offset the lost fishing opportunities from MPAs. Environmentalists agree that artificial reefs are beneficial in providing more fish habitat while lessening fishing pressure on natural habitats. Examples of success are the hundreds of artificial reefs scattered all along the US East Coast and Gulf Coast.
Artificial reefs are also good for the environment because they utilize materials that are hazardous to dispose of. The mothball fleet in Suisun Bay has approximately 70 Navy vessels that are slowly rotting away and threatening the bay with pollution. A Rand Corporation report showed reefing as one of the most economical and environmentally friendly methods of disposing of old ships.

Opponents might say they don’t want ‘trash’ dumped in the ocean, but we call them building blocks. Ships must be cleaned of all toxins and contaminants to EPA standards before they are sunk and that is where most of the cost of reefing is. Then they are towed to the sink site, flooded and sunk. A ship provides more space for plankton sized critters and plants to attach than a natural reef. Soon small fish appear followed closely by larger fish. In less than a year an entire ecosystem is operating.

The California Ships to Reefs organization (californiashipstoreefs.org) is a non-profit group of divers working toward a statewide reefing program. Although their interest is new dive locations, they realize their chance of success is much better when partnered with fishing organizations. Most of the East Coast artificial reef success was due to fishermen. In San Diego, the vessel Yukon was sunk 10 years ago at a cost of 1.5 million dollars. The reef is now estimated to add 4.5 million dollars to the local economy each year.

California Ships to Reefs and partner Humboldt Area Saltwater Anglers (humboldttuna.com) are hoping our elected officials will see the win-win opportunity and use stimulus money to create a reefing program which will provide jobs cleaning ships and recycling materials, help sport fishing and dive related business, and above all – keep sport fishermen fishing.

California Ships to Reefs resurrected the WWII saying “loose lips sink ships” so please, take this opportunity to spread the word and get people talking.

Casey Allen is the Public Information Officer for Humboldt Area Saltwater Anglers, Inc and is on the board of directors of California Ships to Reefs, Inc. He can be contacted at longfish@humboldt1.com