United Anglers MLPA opposition


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Posted by on April 10, 2005 at 20:44:01:

Anglers' groups work to rally support for issues in coastal waters

A private boater and avid ocean angler, Tom Raftican remembers the rallying cries from fishermen in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

This was the '60s movement dressed in a fishing hat and deck boots.

Riled about the proliferation of gillnets hugging California's coastline, recreational anglers such as Raftican jumped in the same boat and fought commercial fishermen. Many joined a group called United Anglers, a mostly Northern California-based group of recreational fishermen back then, and waged war against gill-netters.

Here were the anglers who reportedly catch 7 percent of the ocean's fish, the recreational fishermen, battling commercial fishermen, a group that studies indicate takes 93 percent of the ocean's bounty.

It was a monumental cultural clash, and it produced the 1990 voter-passed Proposition 132, the Marine Resources Protection Act, the late Assemblywoman Doris Allen's little fish that grew into a political keeper.

Gillnets disappeared from California's coastal waters inside three miles, and now, halibut, white seabass, black seabass (still protected) and other inshore fish appear to be thriving.

But 14 years later, a new battle has emerged. And Raftican and United Anglers are trying to build that same fire and fervor that fueled the ban on gillnets.

Raftican now is president of the United Anglers of Southern California, a group numbering between 6,000 and 10,000 paid members (sign-ups from the recent Fred Hall shows are still being tallied) and thousands more with affiliated clubs, according to Raftican.

These days, instead of fighting gill-netters, Raftican said recreational fishermen are battling what he calls "extreme conservationists," conservation groups that he believes have gone astray. That's what Raftican labels organizations such as the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nationwide group that claims a million members. The NRDC had worked for the Channel Islands closure, saying "The public supports creating safe havens for sea life, and the state has a mandate to preserve healthy marine ecosystems for future generations."

Raftican believes that these groups, which have succeeded in closing prime waters around the Channel Islands, now have targeted other areas.

"The Channel Islands closures woke everybody up," Raftican said. "What we found is we've got to make this process work for us. We can throw rocks at it, but it's not going to go away. What we've designed instead is ocean parks, a way for getting destructive gillnets, bottom trawls and longlines out of an area, but allowing recreational anglers in that area."

Ocean closures appear to be on the fast track. The Marine Life Protection Act was passed by the California Legislature in 1999 and "directed the state to design and manage a network of marine protected areas." The areas can be state marine reserves, state marine parks or state marine conservation areas.

The entire process has been tedious and has moved at a spiny lobster's pace, but it is moving. A Central Coast Study Region has been identified. The MLPA Blue Ribbon Task Force, the Master Plan Science Advisory Team and stakeholders have been reviewing a draft for the MLPA's master plan. The task force is scheduled to adopt a draft master plan at its meeting Monday and Tuesday. And from there, the document laterals to the Department of Fish and Game, which then submits its recommended plan for consideration to the Fish and Game Commission over the next few months. That's when public comment will be accepted at meetings. Public comment already has been accepted via e-mails and may be checked at www.dfg.ca.gov/mrd/mlpa/publiccomments.html

Raftican and many members of United Anglers of Southern California are watching closely. Raftican is pushing for ocean park versions of national parks such as Yosemite and Yellowstone, where, just as in those protected habitats, some recreational fishing will be permitted with a "light ecological footprint."

"The ocean parks make sense and are an alternative to no-take reserves," Raftican said. "They have high conservation value, and since recreational anglers pay for most of the management of marine fisheries, we get recreational use of our marine resources and still maintain high conservation values."

The MLPA process stalled in January 2004 because of a lack of funding and was put on "indefinite hold." But along came new funding from the environmentalist-backed Resources Legacy Fund Foundation (the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, the Marisla Foundation and the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation) to give it new life and likely assure its financial backers that no-take reserves will be a part of the plan.

Against that, Raftican keeps battling. He wishes more anglers would get more involved in the process.

"Today, fishing is a contact sport," Raftican said. "If we don't stay in contact with the people that create the rules, we're going to lose our sport. There are way too many issues that involve recreational fishing."

For more information on United Anglers of Southern California, call (714) 840-0227 or visit www.unitedanglers.com.



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