Love it or hate it, the waters of Southern California just became a whole lot more conservation friendly.
After more than four years of meetings, votes, controversy, and public pleas both for and against the idea, January 1, 2012, marked the official rollout date for 36 brand new state-sanctioned marine protected areas (MPAs) dotting the Pacific Ocean between Point Conception and the Mexico border. Designed first and foremost as a tool of protection for underwater ecosystems, the MPAs create a variety of new recreational and commercial fishing regulations for certain strategic areas throughout state waters.
“This is a great day for the ocean,” declared Mike Sheehy, the director of watershed programs for Santa Barbara Channelkeeper. “We have been waiting a long time for this.”
The new Southern California system, which totals some 186 square miles of ocean, is just the latest part of a larger statewide effort to deliver on the mandates of the Marine Life Protection Act that was passed in 1999. Similar arrays of preserves and reserves have already been crafted and implemented for areas between Point Arena and Point Conception, while others are still being fleshed out for the northernmost coast of California.
While beloved by conservationists, the MPAs are bemoaned by fishermen, especially commercial harvesters of the sea, who fear that the new rules have the potential to put them out of work. To help assuage such concerns, the MPAs were developed during an extensive — and occasionally brutal — stakeholder process that aimed to balance the various interests of ocean users while using science as a guide to carefully select key habitat zones that should have the greatest chance for helping fish populations grow and permanently protecting ocean resources. As happens in many processes with multiple stakeholders, no one really left this process entirely happy with the final outcome. (For a more in-depth look at this topic, read The Santa Barbara Independent’s cover story from 2009 here.)
For those who plan to celebrate this first week of the new year with a rod in hand, here’s a breakdown of Santa Barbara County’s newly restricted fishing areas:
* A State Marine Reserve for the waters surrounding Point Conception, including Cojo Reef, such that no fishing of any kind is allowed.
* A State Marine Conservation Area for waters in and around Campus Point in Goleta, from Ellwood Beach to the west and Poles to the east, such that no fishing of any kind is allowed.
* A State Marine Conservation Area for Naples Reef off the Gaviota Coast that prohibits the take of all living sea creatures except for recreational-only spearfishing of certain fish like the Pacific bonito and white seabass. Commercial kelp harvesting is also okay.
* State Marine Conservation Area for Kashtayit (near Gaviota State Park) that restricts fishing of all kinds save for recreational finfish fishing and shellfishing. (Mussel and rock scallop harvests are, however, prohibited.) Recreational kelp hand harvests will also be permitted.
* A State Marine Conservation Area for the Goleta Slough that outlaws all fishing but allows for a certain amount of dredging, habitat restoration, and assorted other maintenance efforts.
For a full listing of new MPAs, click here .