Thursday, March 22 , 2018, 9:25 am | Light Rain Fog/Mist 60º


Captain’s Log: The Damaging Effects of Marine Protected Areas

State commission's misguided and misinformed decision deals another blow to business

The California Fish and Game Commission voted Tuesday to implement Marine Protected Areas in specific locations ranging from Point Conception to the Mexican border. The vote was 3-2, a close one. That means that nearly half of the commission believed that the damaging impacts of these MPAs outweighed the assumed benefits. Then again, more than half felt that the damaging impacts were acceptable and the benefits were more important.

Capt. David Bacon
Capt. David Bacon (Ramona Lisa McFadyen photo)

Damaging impacts? What does that mean?

The primary damage is to our recreational and commercial fishing operators and the myriad associated businesses. The loss of these most productive fishing areas is bad for the fishing industry. This loss, added to the effects of earlier losses (e.g. MPAs implemented in two stages within the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary) plus the bad economy, means businesses are dying.

Need quantification? My own business suffered a 25 percent loss as a result of the earlier MPAs, and I anticipate a 20 percent loss resulting from these new MPAs. The ailing economy adds to those numbers but is separate. It should be clear that businesses cannot sustain such losses and remain viable, yet no financial mitigation is being planned to compensate for catastrophic losses forced upon businesses. This state action is simply shoving people out of business.

It is fascinating to monitor the business damage. What little socioeconomic impact analysis that has been done tries to measure the impact beginning from the date of implementation. But it is too late, because the damage has already been done.

The real damage to businesses comes from the two to three years of media wars leading up to the final vote. I should know. The key task is to measure the effect of damage to public perception. Media wars, citing extreme perspectives, led people to believe that 1) the fish are all gone (not at all true), and 2) fishing is being banned along the entire coast (also not true). The net effect of this makes the general public think there are no more fish to catch and no place to fish. So, our businesses suffer.

Also fascinating is a look at how much productive territory we are losing to fishing. About 8 percent of state waters are about to be closed. Add that to the roughly 7 percent already closed in earlier processes, such as the Channel Islands MPAs, and we have about 15 percent of our waters closed. Here’s what you’re generally not told: Fishing professionals know that 80 percent of the fish live in 20 percent of the sea, so shutting down 15 percent (naturally, MPA proponents want the most productive spots) leaves so little remaining open productive spots that focusing fishing pressure on the remaining spots may overfish them.

You can trust your fishing professionals (fishing skippers) to use every shred of knowledge and skill we possess to put our passengers on fish and send them home with some healthy meals of fresh fish for their families. Our fish stocks are robust and improving.

So my message to the public is: Don’t give up on fishing. It is fun and rewarding, both as a day of adventure with family and friends, and as a source of the freshest fish you can get.

These MPAs are business battlegrounds. Some of the most profound proponents of MPAs are the very people who stand to benefit financially from MPA implementation. I’ll bet they will be submitting grant proposals as fast as they can type. I don’t fault them for that. But I do firmly believe we should guard against conflicts of interest. People who served on the Science Advisory Team (SAT) of the MLPAI were instrumental in determining the need, the scope and the placement of these new MPAs. If they then submit grant proposals, they will have been intentionally setting themselves up for business. I see that as a conflict of interest.

Here is an example. If the head of UCSB Marine Sciences serves on the SAT, then UCSB shouldn’t be allowed to receive grant money to study and monitor the very MPAs they determined important and then defined. Study and monitoring are important and should be done, but not by those who created them with the hope of fiscal gain.

MPAs aren’t about fisheries management necessity. The goals of conservation and sustainability are successfully served by tried and true fisheries management tools such as seasons, bag limits, minimum size restrictions, depth restrictions and annual catch limits based upon sustainability. Fish have places to hide both spatially and temporally. We have learned much about fisheries management in the past few decades, and we are putting those lessons to use. We have gratifying success stories such as the comeback of white seabass, halibut, barracuda, lingcod and others. We have ongoing projects such our black seabass recovery effort.

Creating MPAs is not about conservation or sustainability. It is about preservation — in other words, locking people out. That is unnecessary, and it bugs me.

There is talk about fisherfolk benefiting from spillover or “outflow” of fish from MPAs. That is unproven in our zone and with our fish. I was involved a few years back in a funded scientific project to measure the outflow (from multiple MPAs) of recreationally important fish. The result of the project was no outflow of fish important to anglers. I haven’t seen a recent local study showing the opposite to be true. I therefore believe that there is no benefit to all of us who want to go catch dinner. The bright side to this is that MPAs will benefit some critters, and I love critters.

Socioeconomic justice can be achieved by adopting a policy I call “a reef for a reef,” whereby new structure is created, in an area we can fish, and of equal or greater fishing value than a proposed MPA. The key is that the new structure must be created before a new MPA is implemented. This policy allows preservationists to close some areas, yet maintains fishing opportunities. Even the fish and other critters win big with this policy because there are more homes and forage areas available to them. This can still be done before the new MPAs are implemented.

Click here to view a map of the MPAs.

— Capt. David Bacon operates WaveWalker Charters and is president of SOFTIN Inc., a nonprofit organization providing seafaring opportunities for those in need. Visit to learn more about the organization and how you can help.

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