Looming enforcement of Point Dume MPA stokes controversy

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Local fishermen object to efforts by Heal the Bay to monitor beachgoers’ activities. The nonprofit says the research will be valuable to improve effectiveness of the Point Dume Marine Protected Area.

By Knowles Adkisson / The Malibu Times

A new program by Heal the Bay that enlists volunteers to record the activities of beachgoers along Point Dume and Paradise Cove has raised the ire of local fishermen and residents, who say the monitoring is an invasion of privacy. Heal the Bay says the data collected now will be useful in the future to judge the effectiveness of the Marine Protected Area (MPA) off Point Dume, which will start being enforced by the California Department of Fish and Game (DFG) in late spring or summer.

The new MPA includes a no-take zone that makes it illegal for anyone to remove marine life between the tip of Point Dume and Paradise Cove. Local fisherman Chris Goldblatt, who said he is opposed to MPAs in general, believes the monitoring program will turn volunteers into spies for the DFG.

“[Heal the Bay is] saying, we’re happy to be your de facto police force,” Goldblatt said. “Even if you’re just collecting data, it’s not just collecting data. They do want their people, their monitors, to report poaching activity.”

Heal the Bay President Mark Gold dismissed that suggestion in an e-mail to The Malibu Times.

“There is no Orwellian plot,” Gold said. “We’re just gathering data that will prove useful in determining how the MPA area is used, before and after the regulations kick in.”

The program, entitled “MPA Watch,” enlists volunteers to record the number and location of beachgoers, and whether they are swimming, surfing, or simply walking along the beach. That data will be used in the future to measure the relative health of marine life.

Heal the Bay scientist Dana Murray said her organization would share the data with the DFG, but for the purpose of improving the management of the MPA, not to turn people in.

“We don’t have GPS out there,” she said. “We’re not recording people’s names.”

But, Murray added: “Yeah, maybe if they look at the data that we’ve collected next winter, and they determine that there’s poaching going on quite frequently in a place … That’s up to the Department of Fish and Game if they want to respond by going out there more often to enforce.”

The DFG approved 36 new MPAs in December, including the one off Point Dume, which stretches from El Matador State Beach to Paradise Cove. Limited fishing is allowed in the northern half of the MPA, from Point Dume to El Matador. The new MPAs are a continuation of a process begun in 1999 with the passage of the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA). Initiated in response to dwindling marine populations, the MLPA charged the DFG with coordinating a statewide network of protected areas, which would integrate existing MPAs with new ones into a comprehensive system.

Goldblatt said he depends on free dive spear fishing for most of his food. With the new MPAs, Goldblatt said fishermen will now be forced into more crowded fishing zones, which will deplete populations in those areas and increase the danger of free dive fishermen being hit by fishing boats.

“You’re going to have people dying and overfishing as a result of the compaction of the MPAs, and that’s the reason why I oppose them,” Goldblatt said.

He and other local fishermen argue that the marine population in Southern California is actually healthier now than it was 30 years ago, but that their input was left out during the MPLA planning process.

Murray said she thought the resistance from fishermen to such programs as “MPA Watch” was perplexing. “During the [MPLA planning] process, everybody was clamoring, especially fishermen, that there needed to be more data collected,” she said.

Murray said the data could actually end up helping the fishermen if it proved their contention that the marine life was healthy.