Contentious California Marine Reserve Program Goes Into Effect; Fishermen Begin To Incur L

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Posted by on January 24, 2012 at 18:14:16:

On 1 January, state wildlife officials in California started enforcing a vast underwater marine reserve that will stretch along the 250-mile arc of coastline from the Mexican border to Santa Barbara.

While it will be a matter of years before it becomes clear what impact the new marine protected areas (MPAs) will have on the fishing industry, many are predicting that lobster fishermen will be hit the hardest. This small fishery, which has about 200 permitted fishermen, will now see 20 percent of its prime harvesting area off the coast off Laguna and Oceanside off-limits.

"A fishermen hit with a 20 percent reduction in income or profit -- will he be able to stay in business or not?" said Dave Rudie, who was involved in the creation of the reserves and owns Catalina Offshore Products, which purchases and sells lobster and sea urchin. "It's going to put some of the guys out of business and squeeze the rest into a smaller area."

To comply with the state's Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) of 1999, California's 1,100-mile coastline was divided into five sections. Two protected areas were previously created in Northern and Central California and Southern California is now the third area to undergo the process.

California Fish & Game wardens will now began issuing warnings or citations -- or possibly even arresting violators. In areas where commercial lobster fishing is now banned, traps could stay in the water until 6 January, as long as they are wired open and no attempt is made to take spiny lobsters. "I don't think it'll be the death knell of the fisheries themselves, but it'll probably force some fishermen out," said Bob Bertelli, who has been diving for urchins since 1975. "To one degree or another, all fisheries are going to be impacted."

Many fishermen, grassroots conservationists, environmental justice advocates and civil liberties activists oppose the MLPA. Many also believe the process itself to be corrupt, pointing to the MLPA "Blue Ribbon Task Force" for the South Coast, which is chaired by Catherine Reheis-Boyd, the President of the Western States Petroleum Association. Reheis-Boyd is an oil industry lobbyist with a conflict of interest in the designation of MPAs, considering that she has repeatedly called for new oil drilling off the California coast and the weakening of environmental regulations, as well as supporting environmentally destructive Canadian tar sands drilling. The MLPA implementation process was also overseen by a marina developer, coastal real estate executive and other corporate operatives with numerous conflicts of interest.

Opponents also believe that the MPAs fail to protect the ocean from oil spills and drilling, pollution, military testing, corporate aquaculture, wind and wave energy projects and all human impacts on the ocean other than fishing and gathering. They additionally frown up the funding for the MLPA Initiative, which comes from the shadowy Resources Legacy Fund Foundation, setting a bad precedent for the privatization of conservation and public trust resources in California.

The California Fish & Game Wardens Association has also opposed the creation of new marine protected areas until sufficient funding to patrol the existing ones is found. This is why rank-and-file game wardens refer to the MPAs as "Marine Poaching Areas."

"People need access to sustainable ocean food for nutritional health and our livelihood," commented John Stephens-Lewallen, the North Coast environmental leader who co-founded the Ocean Protection Coalition and North Coast Seaweed Rebellion and has been a vocal critic of the MLPA process. "We canít let these areas, closed by a corrupt private process, keep us from exercising our fundamental rights and duties to have access to sustainable food from the ocean." For more information check out the 31 December San Francisco Chronicle article at: www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/n/a/2011/12/31/state/n105411S93.DTL. Also check out Dan Bacherís 2 January article in Counter Punch: www.counterpunch.org/2012/01/02/the-oil-industrys-marine-reserves.

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