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Channel Islands Marine Reserves Look to Double in Size

by Ethan Stewart

Old wounds from battles between local fishermen and federal authorities are sure to reopen in coming weeks after long-simmering plans to nearly double the existing marine reserves and marine conservancy areas in the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary were released last week. The proposal, which is part of a 224-page draft environmental impact statement (DEIS), calls for the expansion of several existing no-fishing zones in the waters surrounding Anacapa, Santa Cruz, Santa Barbara, Santa Rosa, and San Miguel islands, as well as the creation of a new 20-square-nautical-mile no-fishing zone in the Yellow Banks area, off southeastern Santa Cruz Island. “This is a real step toward protecting the biodiversity of the sanctuary while allowing for better research and monitoring of our resources … and also complementing the existing state network of reserves,” explained sanctuary superintendent Chris Mobley. But because the plan would decrease the size of the area where fishing is permitted, organizations like the Southern California Chapter of the Recreational Fishing Alliance have already gone on record expressing their concern regarding the proposal.

The plan represents an all-inclusive approach to marine conservation: Instead of attempting to protect specific species of fish, it seeks to make entire habitats off-limits to fishing. If adopted, it would expand eight existing marine reserves — places where absolutely no fishing is permitted — as well as a conservancy area (where certain fishing is allowed in a limited

Because the waters surrounding the Channel Islands provide an essential lifeline for an already threatened commercial fishing industry, the plan is unlikely to sail through the 60-day public comment period without opposition from local fishermen, in particular, drift netters and trawlers.

capacity) near Anacapa Island. All told, the plan would result in a protected habitat of 241 square nautical miles — roughly 20 percent of the sanctuary’s total size — for species such as the Pacific lobster, rockfish, sea bass, and abalone.

Because the waters surrounding the Channel Islands provide an essential lifeline for an already threatened commercial fishing industry, the plan is unlikely to sail through the 60-day public comment period without opposition from local fishermen, in particular, drift netters and trawlers. (Fishing is allowed in the sanctuary anywhere not specifically protected by reserves or conservancies.) However, Chris Mobley pointed out that according to the DEIS, the new plan would impact only about one percent of current overall economic activity associated with the islands. This is because the vast majority of commercial fishing takes place in the near-shore waters — an area out of the sanctuary’s jurisdiction. Additionally, Mobley said, since the current reserves and conservancies have been in place, local fisheries have reported landing totals comparable to pre-protection years.

Still, Mobley anticipates a certain degree of backlash from the fishing community, especially after this week’s California Fish and Game Commission decision to severely restrict fishing in the near-shore waters of central California with 29 new marine-protected areas along the coast from Point Conception to Santa Cruz which will have an opportunity to raise questions during a public hearing scheduled for September 28 at the Earl Warren Showgrounds.



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