Protection for California’s Coastal Waters

     A big chunk of central California’s coastal waters is permanently off-limits to fishing.  And more sections of California coastline will also be protected in the next few years. 

     This is very good news because overfishing in these waters had resulted in plummeting fish populations.   For example, in some areas, the catch of bocaccio, a rockfish, had fallen by more than 98 percent between the late 1970s and the late 1990s.  Most of the big fish were gone, with fishermen resorting to younger, smaller fish.  And catching the young fish means they will reproduce very few times or maybe not at all, resulting in far fewer fish overall.

     The fishing restriction is the result of California’s Marine Life Protection Act, the first law of its kind in the nation.  The Act mandates a comprehensive system of offshore protected areas and is supported by a full 75 percent of Californians, even including fishing groups.  The Act is widely viewed as a significant step in reviving fish populations and productive habitat all along the state’s coast. 

     The law will ultimately establish a comprehensive network of Marine Protected Area (MPA)s along California’s 1,100 mile coastline, and the first chunk  was set aside last year.  This area, between San Jose and Point Conception near Santa Barbara, totals about 200 square miles.  Kelp forests and other near-shore habitats have effectively been turned into “no-take” zones. 

     The next area slated for protection, a portion of the north central coast, should be under protection by late next year, according to Kaitilin Gaffney, Project Director at the Ocean Conservancy, an advocacy organization with offices in coastal locations around the country. 

     Research shows that even relatively small marine reserves, if chosen carefully, can help declining species, especially slower-moving fish and invertebrates that do not move far, Gaffney explains.    Some of the major beneficiaries of the law include Dungeness crabs, sea urchins, prawns, and rockfish, and of course their predators–sea birds and sea otters.      

     The Marine Life Protection Act is an excellent step in the right direction.  I hope the other coastal states in the U.S. will follow suit!

     For more detailed information from the Ocean Conservancy about the portion of the California coast now under protection, please click on the following:

–April Moore   

One Response to “Protection for California’s Coastal Waters”

  1. Jim Z. Says:

    This fishery problem is a good example of where “free markets” can be destructive of our very life foundation if left unregulated. Especially now that fishing techniques have become so efficient, the “equilibrium” in fisheries has now become essentially at extinction level.

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