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Monday, May 11, 2009


Webster’s defines sanity as “sound judgement or reason.” The first definition listed is “the state of being sane” which kind of leaves things up for grabs, so I guess that’s why they added the second part. For most of us, being sane is having a grasp of reality that is in agreement with what most everyone else around us perceives.

Just when you think some sanity might actually enter this process known as the Marine Life Protection Act Initiative, you’re quickly reminded everything is based on the best available science.

And there’s nothing sane about the concept of “best available science” unless you take an enormous leap of faith that the body of work scientists have already agreed to be reality is in fact true. In science (and the outside world for that matter) it’s called confidence.

And the MLPA Initiative’s Science Advisory Team is confident in one scientific reality — the size and spacing guidelines they developed at the beginning of the process.

You don’t have to be a scientist to understand the premise of the guidelines for the size of no-take reserves. It’s obvious that the bigger you make a reserve and the more habitat you encompass, the more species you protect from fishing effort. That’s your best bet if your goal is simply to have diverse and numerous fish.

But you can’t make the whole coast of California a marine reserve — at least not yet — so there has to be a maximum size. So, instead of closing everything, how do you get the most out of the reserves you do create?

The answer is to put them as close together as possible, or at least that’s the answer the SAT came up with.

Since then, two teams of scientists have been grinding out the numbers on computers and have come up with models that actually seem to prove most of the SAT’s assumptions when it comes to size and spacing. The fact that two separate models came up with the same conclusion using data that was not completely similar creates “confidence” that what they say is true.

The models say big reserves are better, BUT as long as they are big enough, how close together they are makes absolutely no difference.

You don’t need a computer to understand how the model comes to that conclusion — if the reserve is big enough, it overlaps what it needs to be next to in order to function.

But it’s already been noted truly massive reserves are not an option in this process, although the reserves already created and/or proposed seem much too large to fishermen.

The spacing guidelines were the SAT’s way of getting around the fact they couldn’t create the giant reserves they wanted. Instead they would create a network of reserves so close together it didn’t matter what happened in the waters in between the closures.

In fact, the scientists expect the worst for the waters left open after the process is done. That’s why they turn a deaf ear when fishermen complain that there won’t be enough room left for fishing to continue and that it’s obvious that the extremely harsh fishing restrictions we face in terms of quotas and seasonal closures will get even more restrictive.

Unfortunately for their reality, the three islands up for evaluation in this process are too far apart for the spacing guidelines to apply, so the SAT decided to go with the modeling to evaluate reserve proposals for Catalina, San Nicolas and San Clemente Islands.

Unfortunately for the reality of those who like to fish, SAT members feel the spacing guidelines are necessary along the Southern California coastline.

Yes, they have a feeling that’s what’s needed. In the SAT, it’s sane to believe that while all other data must be published in scientific literature, the feelings and perceptions of original members Steve Gaines, Steve Murray and Mark Carr are as good as anything Newton or Einstein penned. In other words, what Gaines, Murray and Carr think IS the best available science of their time.

At their May 5 meeting, SAT member and eminent fisheries scientist Ray Hilborn made a presentation describing just why the models show the spacing guidelines are unnecessary. It was his reasoned judgement that with good fisheries management in place in waters outside the reserves, reasonably sized closures could be placed wherever they best fit. Then he put up this graphic with his recommendation.

The moment of hope Hilborn inspired — that finally a sane approach would be used to create some quality reserves without gobbling up every last scrap of rock or kelp along the coast — quickly evaporated when Gaines got on the teleconference and rallied his troops around their basic scientific core belief — spacing will make the reserves work regardless of what else happens.

And so the madness goes on unchanged.
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