MLPA could hit coast fishing hard

During the past few months, the Interagency Ocean Policy Task Force has earned most of the attention for the threat that it poses to angler access.

In reality, though, the task force is just one front of a larger assault that began with California's Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) in 2000 and accelerated during the Bush administration.

Under the generally benevolent goal of protecting our oceans, environmental/preservation groups, with friends in high places, push for closures that would deny access to sports anglers, who traditionally are some of the nation's best stewards and conservationists.

And with the task force directed by President Barack Obama to develop a management strategy by mid-December for "oceans, coasts and Great Lakes," the threat has moved inland. In its interim report, the task force failed to mention the multiple values of recreational angling or to differentiate the popular pastime from commercial fishing, which has depleted ocean stocks.

Now, as anglers wait for the other shoe to drop, comes more bad news from California. Under the MLPA, the South Coast Blue Ribbon Task Force recommended to the Fish and Game Commission that vast areas of the South Coast, including Laguna Beach, La Jolla, and Point Dume, be closed to public access.

Should this recommendation be approved, fishing communities around Malibu, Orange County, and San Diego County will be "particularly hard hit," according to Partnership for Sustainable Oceans (PSO).

"This is a dark day for California's recreational anglers," said Steve Fukuto, president of United Anglers of Southern California.

"Most disappointing is the fact that anglers provide approximately $70 million each year to California for marine fisheries management and countless hours of volunteer time to support fisheries in the state.

"For example, the United Anglers of Southern California were instrumental in creating the white sea bass hatchery program. No other user group even comes close to this level of investment — certainly not the people who support closing our state waters to California's residents."

Patty Doerr of the American Sportfishing Association added, "Recreational fishermen are the first and best ocean stewards who strongly believe in conserving ocean resources and will be the first to step forward when conservation action is required.

"In a sound public policy process, the conservation effort also must be balanced with responsibly regulated fishing, economic considerations, and access to the fishery resource. The BRTF, in creating its own alternative, failed to meet these basic objectives."

The PSO coalition is urging anglers to attend a Game and Fish Commission meeting Dec. 9 in Los Angeles, where BRTF will present its preferred management alternative.

Precedent is not promising. In 2006, the state wielded the MLPA to close 108 square miles off the Central Coast to all sport fishing, as well as 72 miles of coastline. In 2002, California banned fishing in 104 square miles of state waters in the Channel Island National Marine Sanctuary.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the country, South Carolina State Rep. Jeff Duncan is sounding the alarm regarding the threat that the Interagency Ocean Policy Task Force poses to angler access and the right of states to manage their own resources.

"South Carolina is very tuned in to what this rhetoric could mean to fishing and to the sovereignty of South Carolina," said Duncan, a past chairman of the South Carolina Sportsmen's Caucus. "The sovereignty of our state is something that we take very seriously.

"Unfortunately, this (task force and its mission) is not on the radar screen with a lot of folks, and the fact that the administration has put it on the fast track should concern us. I'm glad that the sport fishing community got involved."

In a letter to U.S. Senator Jim DeMint, also of South Carolina, Duncan voiced his concerns that the recommendations of the task force "could have dramatic implications for recreational fishing access sand management nationwide.

"This policy extends into the Great Lakes and inland watersheds that flow into the oceans, which, of course, include every river, stream, and most lakes and reservoirs in America."

And in crediting BASS for assistance, he posed the following questions:

• Why does the federal government refuse to separate recreational angles from commercial fishing, when the impacts on the resource are vastly different?

• Why the rush to get such an overwhelming policy done in 180 days?

• The document (interim report) repeatedly mentions the need for the U.S. to ratify the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. What jurisdictional ramifications does that have for fisheries management in waters currently managed by the U.S.?

• What implications do this policy and the UNCLOS have for all inland fresh waters?

• Even though it was listed in the president's directive memo, why does the interim report shy away from sustainable use objectives?

• State natural resource agencies have done a great job of managing our fisheries resource in the Great Lakes. What justification does the federal government have to interfere?

• Finally, why is there no Congressional oversight in a process that will obviously affect millions of Americans?

• By alerting DeMint and others in Congress to the task force and its mission, Duncan is hopeful that U.S. senators and representatives will step to protect the interests of their constituents.

Yet a third front that anglers — and their elected representatives — should be concerned about has been initiated through the National Marine Protected Areas Center http://mpa.gov, managed by the U.S. Departments of Interior and Commerce. Following nomination and public review, 225 sites were added to the system in the spring of 2009. Some allow sport fishing; others restrict or prohibit it.

A second round of nominations extends through Nov. 20. Those sites will be published in the Federal Register and posted on the Web site for a 30-day comment period.

As a Senior Writer for ESPN/BASS Publications, Robert Montgomery has written about conservation, environment, and access issues for more than two decades.

For more information

Find out more about the battle for public waters at KeepAmericaFishing.org, a Web site maintained by the American Sportfishing Association.

To learn more about the Interagency Ocean Policy Task Force and its Interim Report, click here.