Protected Areas Proposed to
Restore Fish Populations Ocean

The maps, which concentrate on near-shore zones, immediately
draw fire from both sides in conservation debate.

July 10, 2001
Los Angeles Times
Kenneth R. Weiss, Times Staff Writer

Most of the Santa Monica Bay could soon be designated a marine conservation area. Large sections of ocean encircling Catalina would be off limits to fishing. So would coastal waters off Carpinteria, Leo Carrillo Beach, Palos Verdes Peninsula, Laguna Beach, Dana Point, Camp Pendleton and La Jolla.

These areas, revealed on Monday, are part of a necklace of proposed marine parks and reserves in the waters off California's 1,100-mile coastline designed to help fish recover from decades of excessive harvesting.

Announcement of the boundaries, developed during 15 months of brainstorming by biologists and government experts, instantly launched a roiling debate. Fishermen complained that the proposed no-fishing zones cover far too much area. Environmentalists complained they covered too little.

Unveiling the boundaries also marked something else: This is the first attempt under a new state law to protect disappearing undersea wildlife as is often done on land--by designating areas as game reserves or wilderness areas.

The traditional way to preserve fish for the future is to limit the size and amount of the catch. Yet that strategy is often invoked too late to make much of a difference--once fish and shellfish that used to be present in abundance have virtually vanished.

"We need some safe places to help rebuild depleted fish stocks," said Daniel Richards, a federal marine biologist on the team that drew the maps. "We concentrated on protecting those near-shore environments where the fish are being hammered the worst."

Department of Fish and Game officials stressed that the map is just a rough draft in what is expected to be a bruising 10-month process of public workshops and revisions. Some areas would be set off limits for commercial fishing, others for recreational fishing, and some for both.

By April 1, the California Fish and Game Commission must approve a network of such marine protected areas to meet the requirements of the state's 1998 Marine Life Protection Act.

Under this law, the new network of marine reserves, parks and conservation areas is supposed to incorporate a fragmented group of more than 100 protected marine areas and bring them together into a coherent system. Only a small fraction of the existing protected areas limit fishing, and in many of the areas, fishing bans have been ignored or unenforced.

Indeed, the Southern California map released Monday recommends abandoning a no-fishing zone off Big Sycamore Canyon north of Malibu. It's one that didn't make much sense, team members said, because of its location.

Under the new system, all of the other previous protected areas would be absorbed, sometimes with their boundaries expanded.

Each would then be placed in one of three categories: marine reserves, which prohibit all fishing; marine parks, which ban commercial fishing, but not most recreational fishing; or marine conservation areas, which allow some kinds of commercial and recreational fishing.

The Santa Monica Bay, for instance, would become a marine conservation area. As a practical matter, very little fishing is allowed in the bay even without that designation because of water pollution.

"Although we are including the bay as a conservation area, there are no new restrictions on fishing," said Steven N. Murray, a Cal State Fullerton biologist and member of the map-making team.

The new network is being established on a different basis than the proposed protected areas around the northern Channel Islands: Anacapa, Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa, Santa Barbara and San Miguel.

For the northern Channel Islands, biologists, environmentalists, and commercial and recreational fishermen spent nearly two years trying to reach consensus on how much of the surrounding waters should be protected.

Biologists wanted 30% to 50% set off limits. Fishermen wanted 18% or less. The effort at consensus failed. State and federal officials then split the difference and recommended protection of about 26% of surrounding state and federal waters. The state Fish and Game Commission is now considering the recommendations.

For the new protected areas, state officials tried a different approach. Instead of trying to find common ground first, the law instructed a 10-member team of biologists and government officials to come up with a first draft.

On Monday, fishermen and environmentalists had their first chance to see--and criticize--the specifics of the sweeping plan.

"It strikes me as too much," said Tom Raftican, president of United Anglers of Southern California. "This is a map drawn up by scientists. To take away all this area without even asking recreational anglers presents a problem for us."

He said his lawyers are exploring how the Marine Life Protection Act might conflict with "right to fish" guarantees in the state Constitution.

Karen Garrison, co-director of the Natural Resources Defense Council's oceans program, called the maps "a good start."

But, she said, "we are concerned there are not enough fully protected areas to meet the standards in the law."

One California shellfish, the white abalone, already is listed as endangered, and a rockfish called bocaccio is also being considered for such federal protections, she said.

"There are a dozen marine species considered at risk of extinction," she said. "There's clearly an urgent need to create safe havens to protect all parts of the ocean's ecosystem."

The map made public Monday also proposes protections around the southern Channel Islands. San Nicholas and San Clemente islands, which are owned and controlled by the U.S. Navy, each have about a quarter of their surrounding state waters set off limits to fishing. State waters extend three miles from shore.

About two-thirds of Catalina Island, the most heavily visited of all the Channel Islands, is ringed by a mile-wide network of reserves and conservation areas.

The proposal gives the Kelp Forest Coalition part of what it wanted, said Stephen Benavides, director of the nonprofit group of mostly recreational scuba divers. The group will continue to push for a three-mile wide ban on all commercial fishing around Catalina.

Benavides questioned how Fish and Game wardens will enforce a vastly expanded network of protected territories.

"People know you don't [mess] with the LAPD or the IRS, but the conventional wisdom with wardens is poach, poach, poach. If you get caught, the charges might be dropped and the fines are paltry."

Frank Spear, patrol chief for Fish and Game's marine division, said the Legislature has helped by boosting the number of wardens on the ocean from 33 to 57 and supplying them with a new fleet of boats.

"We've really geared up to be on the water with bigger boats, faster boats and more crew," Spear said. "We are ready to go into the closure areas and educate people and if we have to, cite repeat offenders for violating the law."

The new plan, detailed on the Fish and Game Department's Web site,, will be the focus of 10 public workshops including:
Santa Barbara's Veterans Memorial Hall on July 24,
Omni Hotel in downtown Los Angeles on July 25
Costa Mesa Community Center on July 26.
All workshops begin at 7 p.m.