Since this column is written for local readers, I don’t often report on topics mostly affecting outdoor oriented people in other parts of the country. But what recently happened in California is worthy of mention if for no other reason than what happens in California often migrates to other parts of the country.
The waters off California were once rich in sea life with a wide variety of fish available. Commercial fishermen were quick to exploit these riches and shared the bounty with fleets of sport anglers targeting tuna, albacore, sea bass and many other species. As always occurs when commercial harvesting of nature’s bounty occurs, the bounty tends to become less bountiful.
Something needed to be done to protect the near shore resources. The obvious remedy was to curtail commercial harvest. A commercial netter can bring to port more fish in one load than all the sportfishermen from that port can catch in a year.
But commercial netters have two things going for them, money and political clout. It’s hard to shut down an industry for the sake of a resource when that industry has lots of money, power and can team up with other industries such as seafood marketers and restaurants.
California also has another segment of society much larger than most other states. Anti-hunting and anti-fishing sentimentalists abound and have been able to secure positions on the state’s fish and game commission. There’s not many (if any) other states where fish and wildlife administrators work openly against their sportsman citizens.
In 2012 huge areas along California’s coast from far north to the Mexican border were declared Marine Life Protected Areas and all fishing, both commercial and sport, was banned in these zones
No matter the fish populations could rebound easily just by banning commercial harvesting. No matter there were other management options. Here was a chance for the anti-fishing segment to curtail sportfishing as well as commercial harvest in nearly a thousand square miles of the best fishing areas along the California coast.
When these regulations went into affect the officials fed the fishermen a bit of sugar by telling them environmental assessments would be ongoing and every five years a determination would be made to see if the fishing bans were still needed.
Recently, in a stunning admission, the California Fish and Game Commission introduced the possibility that recreational fishing may never return to California’s coastal waters designated as Marine Reserves by the Marine Life Protection Act.
The California Fish and Game Commission convened for the purpose of adopting a final Marine Life Protected Area Master plan that postpones environmental assessments from every 5 years to every ten years. Over the objection of California anglers, the commission moved to adopt the new framework, ensuring these no-fishing zones will remain in place until at least 2022.
The state’s failure to study Marine Protected Areas in a timely fashion is having a profound impact on communities dependent on recreational fishing for outdoor tourism and jobs. It is evident that Marine Protected Areas once viewed as marine restoration projects are becoming permanent no fishing zones.
In a stunning admission, newly appointed commissioners rejected the notion that any commitment to sport fishermen was ever made and that marine restoration programs were never intended to restore recreational fishing to the coastal waters designated as Marine Reserves. The president of the commission also stated that fishing may not be restored during his lifetime.
The commission is breaking faith with California anglers by introducing what appears to be at best an uncertain environmental review process and at worst, a permanent fishing ban. Recreational fishing contributes over $4.9 billion annually to California’s economy, a major source of outdoor tourism and jobs.
Could this, can this be a trend that spreads across the country? Absolutely- marine protected areas are in affect in Hawaii, Florida and other coastal areas. There’s one in Michigan’s part of Lake Huron and many others proposed elsewhere.
Sportsmen everywhere need to ever vigilant.