Paul Lebowitz – IT'S JUST FISHING

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Thursday, April 02, 2009


It’s like we’re back in school. We cracked the books, burned a bunch of midnight oil, and spent countless hours boning up for the midterm. The test was hard, a work of blood, sweat and tears. Now we’re waiting on the profs to see if we’ve made the grade. Only this time, so much more is at stake.

There are jobs, Southern California’s marine economy and related businesses will be affected by our work. And recreational fishing access; speaking personally as an angler, I am hopeful we’ll find a way to meet the conservation goals of the Marine Life Protection Act while leaving enough of the good stuff open to sustain our ways of life.

The ‘students’ I’m writing of are the members of the South Coast Regional Stakeholders Group, sixty some people who represent a diverse array of interests. About twenty of us come from the fishing community.

Recently we turned over six draft MPA network maps to the MLPA Science Advisory Team, a panel of academics, consultants, and government employees specializing in marine ecology, MPA design, and economics. You recall the reason; each proposal is a test case, an attempt to satisfy the requirements of the 1999 state law that calls for establishment of a network of reserves and other protected areas along the California coast.

The SAT will run the plans through the wringer, along with another three submitted by outside groups. Each one will be analyzed to see how it stacks up against a complex set of directives, such as whether it captures enough shallow water hard bottom or kelp. Other key metrics are size and spacing; MPAs should be a minimum of 9 square miles and can’t be more than 31 to 60 miles apart.

Each will also be assigned a level of protection based on the take regulations. All indications are we have to hit the magic level of moderate-high or it doesn’t count toward the network. That means no fishing for rockfish, bass, lobsters, or urchins. Pelagics – yellowtail, white seabass, sardines and the like, they may be ok in some cases.

There are vast differences between the draft proposals, about half of which fall into the highly protectionist category. These are the Santa Barbara Channelkeeper / Santa Monica Baykeeper outside proposal, and Lapis B, Opal B, and somewhat confusingly, Topaz A.

Although there are subtleties between them that shouldn’t be ignored, generally speaking each of the preservationist plans would close all of La Jolla’s rich kelp and canyon, the entire huge stretch of Orange County coastline between Newport and Dana Harbors, the vast majority of Palos Verdes, major chunks of Malibu, multiple large sectors of Catalina, Naples and Carpinteria reefs up on the north coast, and much more. It doesn’t take any imagination to guess these plans will score big points for conservation value, but on the other hand, the impact analysis will likely predict ruinous damage to anyone who fishes.    

In contrast, the other five plans take a different approach. These are the FIN/FIC and UASC outside proposals, as well as internal plans Lapis A, Opal A, and Topaz B. Speaking chiefly of Opal A, produced in the RSG workgroup where I’ve served my time, the idea here is to check off the conservation requirements while minimizing the impact on the people who fish and the many businesses that support them.    

The Opal A map would close a lot of good stuff, quality habitats that will take people off the water at Coal Oil Pt, Pt Mugu, a broad swath of Malibu east of the pier, most of the southern side of Palos Verdes, a serious slice of Laguna Beach midway between the ports at Newport and Dana, and a prime chunk of diverse turf off Del Mar. And then there’s that legendary name, Catalina’s Farnsworth Bank. We know many of you, and many of us, will feel the pain if these places make it into the final closure plan. We can’t follow the law without making big sacrifices. Will the SAT analysis show they are enough?  

The homework’s done for this first of three rounds. As I said it wasn’t easy, a matter of blood, sweat and tears. I mean blood that nearly boiled over as we worked to reconcile competing interests, the nervous sweat that breaks out when you’re negotiating for your life and livelihood, and actual tears. Now it’s up to the SAT to tell us which of the plans hit the mark, and which ones missed. Then it’s back to the drawing board for round two.  

Before closing this column, let’s hit rewind and briefly cover how the RSG maps came to be. After all, this is a public process. And although the labors of the three RSG workgroups were not broadcast, filmed or otherwise archived for the world to see, any concerned citizen was free to walk in the door and watch. Few did; heck, few could, the rooms were too small to fit more than a handful of observers. It’s reasonable to guess the general public doesn’t know much about the nuts and bolts of the process.

Keep in mind the following applies to the Opal workgroup only. Obviously I have only secondhand accounts of how things went down in the others.

The first work sessions were pitched as “inventing without committing.” RSG members were invited up to a map to indicate the areas they’d like to consider for MPAs. As recounted in a previous column, when this exercise was finished, virtually every worthwhile fishing spot in Southern California state waters was covered by a red splotch. Nothing was off limits except serious debate; that was slated for later.

The next step provoked considerable anguish. After lengthy discussion, the Opal RSG reps agreed to assemble contrasting maps, one “big,” the other “small.” We simply went down the coast and out to the islands twice, selecting and modifying the areas of interest drawn up in the first step.

When we were finished we had Opal A, a low economic impact plan, and Opal B, an incremental retreat from the original “inventing without committing” map. The gulf between them is huge. For our next RSG session, scheduled for April 28-29, we’ll be asked to amend these draft plans in response to the SAT evaluations. At some point we’ll be directed to merge the two maps into one. Now that’ll be a test to sweat.   

Want to see the maps for yourself? Every one of the nine proposals is available online at the DFG’s MLPA website, which is www.dfg.ca.gov/mlpa. Here are the direct links to the individual maps and the tables that provide the proposed take regulations.

Lapis A Internal Proposal
Overview map: www.dfg.ca.gov/mlpa/pdfs/scrsg_r1array_lapisa.pdf  

Lapis B Internal Proposal
Overview: www.dfg.ca.gov/mlpa/pdfs/scrsg_r1array_lapisa.pdf  
Opal A Internal Proposal
Overview map: www.dfg.ca.gov/mlpa/pdfs/scrsg_r1array_opala.pdf   

Opal B Internal Proposal
Overview: www.dfg.ca.gov/mlpa/pdfs/scrsg_r1array_opalb.pdf   

Topaz A Internal Proposal
Overview map: www.dfg.ca.gov/mlpa/pdfs/scrsg_r1array_topaza.pdf   
Description: www.dfg.ca.gov/mlpa/pdfs/scrsg_r1array_topaza_report.pdf  

Topaz B Internal Proposal
Overview: www.dfg.ca.gov/mlpa/pdfs/scrsg_r1array_topaza_report.pdf   
FIC/FIN External Proposal A
Overview map: www.dfg.ca.gov/mlpa/pdfs/scrsg_r1array_propa.pdf     
Description: www.dfg.ca.gov/mlpa/pdfs/scrsg_r1array_propa_report.pdf   

UASC External Proposal B
Overview map: www.dfg.ca.gov/mlpa/pdfs/scrsg_r1array_propb.pdf     
Description: www.dfg.ca.gov/mlpa/pdfs/scrsg_r1array_propb_report.pdf

Santa Barbara Channelkeeper / Santa Monica Baykeeper External Proposal C
Overview map: www.dfg.ca.gov/mlpa/pdfs/scrsg_r1array_propc.pdf      
Description: www.dfg.ca.gov/mlpa/pdfs/scrsg_r1array_propc_report.pdf

Paul Lebowitz can be reached at:



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