MLPA and its effects on the diving community. Part 2, the impacts on diving.

Scuba Diving on the Great Escape Southern California Live-Aboard Dive Boat

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Posted by Stephen Benavides on November 16, 2009 at 17:29:38:

Complete information on this process can be found on the department website at http://www.dfg.ca.gov/mlpa/mpaoptions_sc.asp . Any further comments on the south coast MPA process should be directed to the Fish and Game Commission who will be responsible for selecting the shapes for the final map.

Comments to the California Fish and Game Commission may be directed to fgc@fgc.ca.gov .

The gateway SMR at Pt. Conception is fairly large although the area is not heavily used by divers. Spearfishing will be impacted at Campus point at Isla Vista by a SMCA located on that geography. Similar impacts due to a SMCA located on the Naples Reef complex. Be careful of SMCA’s, it is all in the Regulations when they are written.

The next major piece of geography is the Point Dume area. The decision on this geography was actually linked to the Palos Verdes Peninsula at the southern end of Santa Monica Bay. Their decision on the Point Dume and the Palos Verdes geographies was probably the most difficult decision for the BRTF. Both of these geographies are considered vital by the fishing and kayaking and spearfishing interests. Because of the location of an offshore Canyon near point Dume and the high quality rocky intertidal kelp habitat on Palos Verdes, these locations were also considered vital by the conservation interests. After an exhausting, and nauseating, discussion going back and forth for a couple of meetings the BRTF basically traded one geography for another and responded to the socioeconomic arguments advanced by the fishing interests, CPFV fleets, and the municipalities surrounding the Palos Verdes Peninsula. Their final decision for Palos Verdes was to accept the shape posed by the fishing community which protects a small piece of the southwest corner of the Peninsula and radiates outward into deep water leaving virtually all of the extreme southern exposure and western face of Palos Verdes opened to consumptive use. The trade-off was the approval of what was essentially a workgroup #3 shape for the Point Dume area which provides a cluster of an SMCA and SMR which runs from Trancas to the East side of big kelp reef lying just to the east of Point Dume.

The Rocky point area of the Palos Verdes was left open to fishing however the selection of group #2 shape for Palos Verdes will virtually ensure that the IPA will not meet SAT guidelines. The use of the shape will omit a kelp replicate necessary to comply with the spacing criteria.

Of course that brings us to Orange county. Orange county was also the subject of an intense negotiation from the very beginning of the process. What we are going to have is a State Marine reserve which runs virtually the entire coastline contained within the city of Laguna Beach. There will be a State Marine reserve which will run from abalone point and terminating just to the north of the sewer outfall in South Laguna. What this means is the elimination of virtually all of the consumptive spearfishing and lobster hunting in Laguna Beach. Fishing and lobster hunting will still be available in the State Marine conservation zone to the south of the State Marine reserve those portions of the coastline have notoriously difficult access in poor conditions for diving around Dana Point.

As I have stated on multiple occasions I have never been in favor of an MPA of any kind centered on Central Laguna. I have always believed the better habitat for selecting a Marine Protected Area began in South Laguna and ran south to the Dana Point headland. That area is certainly better habitat for all creatures than the area which was selected in Central Laguna. We have a Central Laguna reserve because the socioeconomic cost of displacing the lobster fishers in Dana point and Newport Beach harbors was deemed too steep a price to pay to protect the best habitat in southern Orange County. Accordingly, we have a State Marine reserve with a very large coastal footprint delineated by the geopolitical boundaries of the city. I'm not sure I can agree with the "science" behind that decision. Nonetheless, that's what we will have and next year will be our last year for recreational scuba divers to capture lobster in the Laguna Beach area. We are probably looking at 1-1-2011 for the effective date of these changes.

Moving south to San Diego brought on another intense round of negotiations. The shape selected by the BRTF is similar to the shape proposed by workgroup number three. What we have in San Diego is a large State Marine conservation zone that is centered on the Swamis/Cardiff reef complex. In addition, cluster of shapes involving a slightly larger SMCA at Scripps and a slight increase to the existing reserve at La Jolla Cove coupled with a shape that is a cluster of SMCA and SMR in South La Jolla. The La Jolla shape is a reserve on the inside and the State Marine conservation zone on the outside. The northern portion of La Jolla including the point in the area to the west of Casa and boomers remains open for fishing. With the exception of a small heritage reserve located at the Cabrillo Monument, the entire point Loma kelp bed remains unrestricted and open to fishing.

Catalina Island was also the site of intensive negotiations. The IPA places and medium-size State Marine conservation area on the backside near China point. This also covers the area including Farnsworth Bank. Inside this SMCA fishing is banned inside 50 fathoms and beyond 50 fathoms is allowed for only Bonito, Marlin, Tuna, and Dorado. Hook and line fishing is impacted but the BRTF failed to pose any restraints on commercial squid fishing on the backside of Catalina. I think they're still working on the fine points of this regulation. On the front side of the IPA proposes a slight increase to the State Marine reserve at blue caverns and places a small State Marine reserve between long point and goat harbor on the front side. Finally, the Avalon Marine Park and lovers Cove area will receive protection equivalent to a State Marine reserve.

On San Nicholas Island, the BRTF chose to ignore the Navy's offer of the entire Alpha sector as a military closure (equivalent of the SMR) and instead chose to place a State Marine reserve around Begg Rock. From a conservation perspective there is to tell the rock and certainly not much left to protect on the 15 foot-high rock across $1000 to take a dive boat. The Begg rock shape will comprise over 37 miles of protection to almost nothing since the divers have already eaten all of the scallops above 140 feet. This was a terrible trade-off that gives protection is something that didn't really deserve it at the cost of ignoring the Alpha sector or any other location on San Nicholas.

Divers suffered greatly due to the new military closure proposed for the area from Northwest Harbor, around Castle rock and out to 3 miles. This new closure is a military closure that will be a no transit zone. This means we're not even allowed to run our boats across. This also means that 9 fathom reef, Castle rock, and purple boilers will remain closed to recreational use indefinitely. This area is one of the most beautiful diving areas and all of Southern California and will now be off-limits. The Navy retains its existing closure at Wilson Cove and no other Marine protected areas of any kind were allowed to be placed on San Nicholas or San Clemente Islands due to an agreement between the Department of Defense and the BRTF.

Stephen G. Benavides

What this country needs are more unemployed politicians.

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