California Marine Reserves

        I want to report on an interesting happening at the F&G Commission meeting in San Diego on 1-6-99. I was there to support the request of the Channel Islands Marine Refuge Group to make 20% of the Channel Islands National Park into no-take, no-harvest Marine Refuge. What I saw amazed me. The whole ambiance of the Commission meeting was dark, with faustian overtones. The day started with a very highly charged revocation hearing and there were two armed camps of lobster trappers and a load of armed wardens. After a quick break for lunch there was more controversy and then 3 more license hearings. The refuge issue was put off until the end of the day. This caused a lot of problems for the Refuge people as a lot of people flew in to testify. Interestingly, the mood lightened up at once. The mood of the room changed like a sunbeam bursting through a cloudy day. I am sure the commission wanted to end on a better note. Comm. Boren was very receptive to the conservationists and all through the day was going on about the need to be protective and proactive. The other two were as vocal about proactive action as I have ever heard them. The squid agenda discussion earlier was very enlightening. In attendance and strongly in support of the 20% reserve concept were:

Channel Islands National Park had a whole crew there incl. The boss and Gary Davis.

  • NRDC Karen Garrison

  • CMC

  • EDF

  • Channel Island Marine Sanctuary

  • The Kelp Forest Coalition

And the artillery:

  • Dr. Mia Tegner

  • Dr. Paul Dayton

And a load of other people who spoke in support.

30 people were signed up to speak and we did not start until 5:00pm.

Opposed were the So Cal Sportfishing Fleet through Bob Fletcher. I was interested to note that on an earlier agenda item Bob was all in favor of limiting the squid harvest by forbidding weekend fishing so as to preserve the squid resource. He said that we should be proactive to protect this valuable resource. Two hours later he was saying we did not need these marine reserves to save his fish. Ö interesting?

Also in opposition were the lobster fishermen and the fish trappers. Joining the opposition was Kelco, who mines kelp commercially for the algin trade.

The proponents of the reserves were coordinated and ready, the opposition was not. Honestly, it was like 1997 and the abalone question again. Clear, solid citizen support for the conservation element while the commercials opposed while bickering among themselves. Again, the commercials pointed to science and said that we should do nothing not verified by science. This is clearly their mantra and this will not help their cause as the pro refuge scientific data, while scarce, vastly exceeds the con. The scientific evidence cited by the proponents was clear and convincing.

Nobody from the public sector opposed the reserve proposal.


I will not summarize the presenters points. If you are reading this you are on a list for those whose thoughts matter and are aware of the points on both sides. It is no great secret that I have been and remain a strong proponent for the establishment of meaningful reserves. I want to see true wilderness areas return to the sea. Refugia have always been a central theme of my photography and journalistic efforts. I would like to share two thoughts with you that I testified on at the Commission meeting:

The first is insurance. I have spent my life as a professional business advisor. If I had a business with a track record of mistakes, crashes and fatalities that mirrored our game management policies I would have to take immediate action. I would buy some insurance to protect me from my own or my employees negligence or simply protect me from plain bad luck or a well intentioned mistake. Our track record has winners like NorCal abalone and sardines, but far more fail to work. We have had some real disasters. We need some insurance. Reserves act as our insurance against our malpractice or mistake.

The last thought is PEACE. Reserves will help bring peace to a passion loaded arena where events to often have been catastrophic in nature. If you are talking about the collapse of a species it may already be too late. If we have meaningful reserves where the last abalone, the last rockfish and the last sheephead live in abundance and are protected the passions of all user groups will have to be lessened. Call it a pressure relief valve if you will. If we manage 80% of our resource and make a mistake we might not manage to kill off the diversity and lose species. We would always have the insurance stocks in the reserves.

The attached letter summarizes my thoughts. I ask that if you really want to be part of creating a marine heritage for our children that you start now and write the Fish and Game Commission a letter of support for the Channel Island Proposal. Attached is mine. It is up to us to save a little of what is left.

Robert Treanor
Executive Director
California Fish and Game Commission
P.O. Box 944209
Sacramento, CA 94244-2090

Dear Mr. Treanor and Commissioners:

Re: Channel Islands Marine Reserve Network - SUPPORT

I have had the pleasure of diving in a fair number of locations around the world and have come to appreciate first hand the multitude of benefits which come from no harvest zones. The economic benefits are also compelling and may be triumphed above the fact that we are preserving biodiversity and habitat. Quite frankly, money and prospective economic advantage often outweigh the conservation arguments in todayís economic focus. It is an undeniable fact throughout the world that destinations with refugia or "real" national park status are preferred by traveling divers and that translates into a lot of money to be made by the diving industry and all who derive collateral benefits from the increased recreational traffic. Our own abalone fishery economics illustrate this concept as the recreational abalone harvest is enjoyed by over 30,000 individuals and is worth over $10 million to the north coast economy.

I personally believe the scientific reasons for establishment of refugia are even more necessary than the economic ones. While I do not profess to be a scientist I have spent years pursuing everything I can possibly learn about California seas. I have been a certified diver for almost 30 years and have a lifetime of experience piloting small craft in the Channel Islands. My training as an active research diver with the Wrigley Center for Environmental Studies (USC) and the Marine Biodiversity Study for the CCD on Catalina Is. have pointed out that one of the most important things we lack in California is an understanding about what "normal" really is. Today, there is virtually no place on our coasts we havenít affected as yet. Simply put: How can we make intelligent decisions about how to harvest, protect or enhance a resource when we do not know what the resource could be?

I would propose that we enlist the support and cooperation of the sport and commercial fishermen and ask they get behind the concept of refugia. There is a very good reason for this to happen. It is patently obvious that there is considerable, and sometimes overwhelming, opposition to any restrictions on take, limits, seasons or allowable species take. Any commercial operator currently in business believes they have a vested interest in preserving their rights to continue harvest. With almost every fishery in California in decline this guarantees high emotions and crisis confrontations. It is a time of difficult choices and we will all have to give a little back from what we have previously taken.

The refugia will eventually recover to the point we can use studies in these areas to determine what the potential should be or what an area should look like when allowed to reach a stasis. Studies of these areas will yield valuable information allowing DFG to do a better job of maintaining the resource. If we had refugia that contained white abalone we would not be faced with the potential extinction of a species in the wild. Refugia therefor act as insurance against our mistakes or misunderstanding of the dynamics of resource management. The fact that species would have a refuge in any event would lessen the passion of the conservation minded and put both sides in a cooperative position on some issues at least.

These areas would become biological reservoirs for enhancement of surrounding non-refuge areas. They would also enjoy a richer diversity of life and would be a magnet for recreational divers. It is an undeniable fact that a recreational based use of a marine resource will generate far more revenue and taxes than a consumptive use of that same resource. We have proved beyond a reasonable doubt that we know very little about managing marine resources. Our track record is dismal and shameful. It is time to make a change because while we cannot say what exactly will work, we have shown that we are easily capable of failing to carry out the mandate to properly manage the resources for the benefit of all.

I am interested in further investigation of the issues and am committed to see a change for the better in the management of our seas. If you have further questions on this matter please do not hesitate to contact me.


Stephen G. Benavides

Executive Director

Member, Recreational Abalone Advisory Committee