My thoughts on marine protected areas

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Posted by Craig Hoover on April 15, 2009 at 17:17:22:

Hi All,

I am new to posting on this board but have followed the thread for several years. A member of our dive club recently circulated a petition against the formation of marine protected areas. This is my response.
I am in favor of reserving areas of our coastline as no take zones. There has been an argument that the "best scientific evidence" does not support the need for marine protected areas. I would like to address this issue. My expertise is limited to coastal dive sites in Malibu. I have logged three hundred hours of bottom time in this area in the past four years. To monitor a site I visit it approximately three times a month for an average of one year. I note species diversity, abundance and the size of individuals. My focus has been primarily game species. There seems to be no average difference in size of individuals or diversity of species at any particular dive site from one year to the next.
Point Dume and La Piedra may be compared and contrasted in the size of the reefs, fishing pressure, and relative size of game species. Popular game species such as sand bass, kelp bass and sheepshead reach an average at Point Dume of two thirds the size that they reach on a reef that recieves less pressure such as La Piedra.
Recreational fishermen visit Dume every week as boaters, shoreline anglers and divers. La Piedra is visited rarely and usually by boaters. To the best of my knowledge this difference in size of game species is due to fishing pressure. My main point is that I do not know the answer to this question.
To allow scientists to ask this question and research possible causes; the scientific method must be used. There must be an experimental group and a control group. One of these reefs and the surrounding waters must have all hunting pressure removed so that the effects of this pressure may be studdied alongside the lack of this pressure. To appease the greatest number of local fishermen the logical choice is to preserve the coastline from Leo Carillo to El Matador. The other option is to preserve the area from Point Dume to Latigo Point.
If species are present in abundance at both sites then why is it necessary to eliminate pressure from one site? The only constant in any ecosystem is change. The pressure that recreational hunting puts on our underwater resources is change. There is no way to tell if a collapse in population of a game species is due to human pressure or to habitat change. It is the role of the scientist to ask these questions. If we deny the experimental method and no studdies are done; subtle changes will not be evident over time and a species may be overharvested before any action is taken. The results of overharvesting could cause the complete closure of harvesting of that species.
The stated purpose of the California Department of Fish and Game is to maintain the maximum sustainable harvest of a species. To ensure this maximum sustainable harvest is it not prudent to allow the scientist to do his job and to allow a game species a refuge in case our hunting pressure does make a difference?


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