The MLPA -a brief look back from the future
Recently, there was a fierce battle joined on the Southern California coast. Protagonists on both sides of the dividing line fought bitterly for their cause. The battleground was strewn with those adamantly protecting accessible fishing areas versus those vehemently protecting the marine environment and it was a long-fought, sometimes tedious and expensive affair. Such battles can be more destructive than good, especially when drawn on political lines. Politics have nothing to do with actually protecting an environment or a fishery, though you can defend either of the polarized sides through political means. Here is the beauty of American politics. A resulting balanced compromise.
San Diego has a rich fishing history. It is well located to have good cool-water rockfish deep, a thriving local halibut and calico bass population. Seasonally, wandering schools of yellowtail and white seabass roam through the local kelp beds and canyons following bait and threads of warm water. Within a few hours boat ride from Point Loma, we get tuna and dorado (Mahimahi) every summer. There are thresher sharks just offshore and corbina eating crabs in the surf at your ankles. There is always something to target among the numerous game fish San Diego waters hold.
My paternal grandfather used to keep camp gear buried by an old shack on Torry Pines beach in the 1940s. My father, as a boy, had the chore of carrying the ice down from the nearest parking above the bluffs. They spent many weekends there on camp-surf fishing trips. My maternal grandparents favored the Baja coast, specifically “Halfway house”, a spot between Tijuana and Ensenada.
After my parents met in school, they spent their free time fishing or making their own wetsuits and filling tanks for diving the cove and journeying up and down the Baja coast and the northern Sea of Cortez. My older brother came along and that slowed them down a bit, and then I kept them home more. Even so, my brother and I have the fishing gene. I understand the desire to fight for the right to fish and enjoy the ocean’s bounty. But the earth’s human population has more than doubled in my lifetime and the San Diego population has more than tripled since my birth at Donald Sharps in 1962, the same year the Port Authority was established. Things change.
The once ordinary fishing was more like the extraordinary fishing we are seeing this very rare year. Albacore used to frequent 9-mile bank in their annual migration, in big numbers and most years. Then it changed with over-fishing, both commercially and recreationally. The commercial tuna industry moved south long ago. Locally, commercial fishing has been reduced to small boats that are restricted from use of long-lines and gill-nets. It was not long ago that the white seabass had all but disappeared. Trash and debris started out-populating wood and natural material left in the littoral zone on the beaches between the tides. Changes were needed and changes were made. The beaches are actually cleaner. The white seabass are doing well. As we continue to increase our population and demand on the environment, changes will be needed to ensure we don’t lose the most valuable resource on earth; vibrant and healthy oceans.
The MLPA reserves sponsor growth not only near the reserve boundaries, but throughout the surrounding fishery, the caveat being; with size and take limits in place and following the lead of politically-neutral marine science complemented by full adherence to the rules by those utilizing the resource- the anglers. Legislation is nothing without the willingness of those legislated to comply for the benefit of all. The act even takes modern angling methods into account- Fishing areas outside the MLPA reserve can still be accessed by paddling through the reserve, giving green-friendly craft like SUPs and kayaks opportunity of better catches without a lot of travel, and the ability to launch if the safest area to launch, given surf direction and height, is in a preserve.
The end result in this recent addition to protected areas in Southern California was beneficial to all. With strategically located reserves, the local fishery will improve for the angler in the long run, giving the slow-growing endemic species like calico bass and sheepshead more area to breed and flourish unmolested, and thus, sustainably restock the areas near the preserves and outward. It’s like a horizontal version of rock fishing limits that are by depth and time of year, yet with clear boundary lines and not nearly as complicated. The rockfish (Groundfish, in the DFW rulebook) fishery is improving since implementation of those regulations, and they are adjusted as needed by scientific management of the fishery. This is hopefully a sign of the new model to be used when managing our fisheries- fishing within our means. Sounds good to me, as I’d like my grandkids to enjoy what my grandparents did. Managed well, the local fishery should remain fishable for catch and release as well as harvesting for generations to come.