New restrictions leave some confused, while others feel that they are unfair to recreational fishermen.
By Vicki Godal/Special to The Malibu Times
Among the first major changes dictated by the Marine Life Protection Act in 2005 for California fishermen, covering Point Conception to the Mexico Border, are groundfish regulations, affecting local recreational fishermen, as well as commercial outfits. However, some recreational users feel like they are on the bottom rung of the ladder, while others are irked by the ever-changing rules.
The recreational fisheries affected by these changes include those for rockfish, cabezon, kelp greenling, California scorpionfish, lingcod, some flatfish and some sharks. Local fishermen’s complaints centered on how quickly openings, closings and species catch quotes change. They are expected to frequently check online for marine protection area postings regarding closings and openings.
Recreational fisherman Norman Lefkovits lives in north Malibu, half a mile from what locals call “the deep hole,” one of Southern California’s best fishing zones. It is known to hold big calico or kelp bass, plus sand bass and lingcod. Lefkovits moved there specifically to fish.
“These rules come and go and they change so rapidly that it’s confusing to anybody that wants to play by the rules. When you can catch, when you can’t. You can’t keep up with these rules. I don’t mind obeying rules but I want these rules to be well founded,” Lefkovits said.
Former Gov. Gray Davis signed California’s Marine Life Protection Act into law on Oct. 8, 1999. Found in Chapter 10.5 of the California Fish and Game Code, the purpose of the MLPA is to improve the array of marine protected areas existing in California waters through the adoption of a Marine Life Protection Program and a comprehensive master plan.
“Many in the commercial fishing industry support the creation of marine protected areas, because there are too few fish now to support the number of boats,” said Zeke Grader, executive director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, the largest commercial fishermen’s trade group on the West Coast.
The MLPA requires that the Department of Fish and Game develop a master plan for establishing networks of marine protected areas in California waters to protect habitats and preserve ecosystem integrity. (Marine protected areas prohibit any extractive and destructive activities that include recreational fishing, bottom trawling, dumping and dredging.) These marine protected areas would receive one of three classifications: State Marine Reserve-Access and use such as walking, swimming, boating and diving may be restricted and no commercial or recreational take will be allowed; State Marine Park-Access is allowed but may be restricted and no commercial take will be allowed. Recreational take for specific species will be allowed but may be restricted; State Marine Conservation Area- Access is allowed. Certain commercial and recreational take will be allowed.
According to commercial fishermen, most of the best fishing is migratory fish. Migratory fish cannot be caught in closed marine protection areas or if they are listed as protected, but otherwise they can be caught. Most local commercial fisherman go after seasonal migratory fish, switching species as often as once a month.
Malibu electrician Brian Hart is an avid sport fisherman. He said he thinks the rules will be a benefit. “Migrating fish are here one year, gone the next so I don’t think it’s [the MLPA] viable from that standpoint. But the local fish populations like the lobster benefit,” Hart said. “In the last three to five years I’ve definitely noticed an increase in rock fish and white sea bass.”
Southern California native Peter Gajitch sport fishes from his kayak and said he feels the regulations treat recreational fishermen unfairly. “When the commercial guys catch their quota, we [recreational fishermen] get it in the foot because we are behind them. So when they get their quota we have to stop fishing too,” he said.
Marine protection areas serve different purposes, some protect fisheries, some protect habitats and others protect national historical treasures. On land, many people have long accepted the principle of preserving wilderness areas and parks where hunting and other resource extraction activities are prohibited. This concept applies equally to the oceans, yet management policies for the oceans lag far behind. To illustrate this point, according to the California Department of Fish And Game’s official Web site, “To date, the Marine Life Protection Act has not been implemented as quickly as intended. A realistic approach focuses on strategically prioritizing those program components that can be effectively implemented now, and completing the remaining components in later phases.”
Chris O’Keefe has been both a commercial and a sports fisherman in Malibu for 26 years. “The main problem, I think, is that they don’t even have the budget to enforce what laws they have in effect now,” O’Keefe said.
The creation of marine reserves was a key recommendation of the Pew Oceans Commission chaired by Leon Panetta, former chief of staff in the Clinton Administration.
Fish species depend on the area you are fishing and water temperature. A cast out in deep water beyond the kelp and shoreline yields larger species like barracuda, bonito, ocean whitefish, larger kelp bass, white seabass and yellowtail. Quantity and diversity are both present in Malibu waters. Fish caught at the Catalina Islands’ Avalon Mole include 17 species: kelp bass, halfmoon, opaleye, garibaldi, blacksmith, senorita, kelp perch, California sheephead, rock wrasse, giant kelpfish, striped kelpfish, scorpionfish, treefish, Pacific mackerel, Pacific barracuda, ocean whitefish and a California moray eel.
Over the last 50 years, California has established 104 marine protected areas on a case-by-case basis. Of these 104, only 2 percent or nine out of 5,600 square miles receive total protection of all species. Currently less than 1 percent of all U.S. ocean waters are fully protected from extractive and destructive activities.