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Captain’s Log: New Marine Protected Areas Take Effect Jan. 1

Unnecessary for fisheries management, MPAs are all about creating permanent money-makers for grant seekers

You will love this story if you enjoy complex and deceptive business battles that devastate industries for the benefit of those who funded the fight. New Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) along the coast, created during the Marine Life Protection Act Initiative, go into effect Jan. 1. The story isn’t pretty, and neither are the impacts of the new MPAs.

Much of what the public was told via the media was carefully crafted by one side (the very well-funded side) of the battle to make it look like MPAs are necessary for fisheries management. MPAs here are not really about fisheries management. They are business battles to privatize the ocean for the purpose of garnering grant money.

We do not need MPAs here for fisheries management. We know how to bring back populations of fish from natural problems and from the early days of overfishing. Using tried and true fisheries management practices including seasons, reduced bag limits, size limits, depth restrictions and improved technologies for stock assessments we brought back white seabass, halibut, barracuda, bonito, lingcod, anchovies and sardines. We are in long rebuilding programs for black seabass and cow cod. Professional fisheries managers at the Pacific Fishery Management Council know what they are doing.

Listen, there is no plan to accomplish any stated goals and then give those MPAs back to the public. Nope, they are intended to be permanent private money-makers for grant seekers who know that when MPAs exist, grant money flows. Ultimately, we citizens provide the money, one way or another. For that privilege, we lose our rights to those areas. This is privatization of our ocean.

MPAs typically come with requirements for five-year monitoring and assessment plans. That was the case with the Channel Islands MPAs. Indeed, there was a five-year symposium that I had difficulty sitting through without losing my lunch. It was nothing but a “Rah! Rah!” circus show. For example, I was involved in a bona fide research project, teaming the research community with the charter industry and the recreational angler representation community. It was a project to tag calicos inside MPAs to see how MPAs benefited anglers in terms of outflow of fish valuable to our communities and industries. The project showed that there was no measurable benefit — none.

Naturally, I wanted this sanctioned research project included in the five-year Channel Islands MPA symposium. No way! The organizers wanted nothing to do with the project because it didn’t paint a rosy “Rah! Rah!” picture of their MPAs. Every project included in that farcical symposium praised the glory of MPAs. It was so self-serving, from a business perspective, that it became disgusting.

Those folks live off of grant money, and grant money flows if MPAs are made to look good. During a comment period, I stood and gave a brief factual report on the project with which I had been involved. I got blank stares, angry glares and mumbled dismissals. After all, my comments wouldn’t help them garner funding for their projects.

Fast forward to Jan. 1, 2012, when the newest MPAs go into effect. Why do I have this sinking feeling in my gut yet again? It is because I pretty much know what is coming — devastation of industries will be ignored or understated because those facts will not show a benefit to MPAs. Effective socioeconomic monitoring and analysis to determine and hopefully mitigate the awful true costs to businesses and economies resulting from MPAs will not be funded and performed.

Why? It’s simple. Because that information doesn’t paint a rosy picture of MPAs. Monitoring planning efforts have one guiding rule — make MPAs look good so that grant money flows. It is a business battle. Get it?

I want two things (not counting dropping the new MPAs):

1. Thorough and adequately funded socioeconomic monitoring, beginning three years before MPA implementation, to measure the damage to our fishing industries caused by a public perception shift attributable to media wars funded by those who seek the grant money that flows when MPAs are implemented and by those who are influenced by the money seekers.

2. A requirement that researchers collaborate with the fishing industries by chartering our boats and hiring fishing industry professionals (like skippers and crew), rather than researchers using the money to buy themselves boats and other resources and use only staff that will “go along to get along” with them.

OK, I’ll offer an easier way out. MPA implantation and monitoring problems can be fixed to the benefit of all. Socioeconomic justice can be achieved by adopting a policy I call “A reef for a reef,” whereby a new structure is created, in an area we can fish, and of equal or greater fishing value than a proposed MPA. The key is the new structure should be created before a new MPA is implemented. This policy allows preservationists to close some areas and yet maintains fishing opportunities. Even the fish and other critters win big with this policy because there are more homes and productive forage areas available to them.

I ask and challenge the California Fish & Game Commission to study and adopt this “reef for a reef” policy. Call it part of the price of designing and implementing MPAs. The program will help mitigate damage done to fishing industries and economies and the public will learn that creating more new homes for fish will increase their population and make for better fishing. Heck, the new reefs may even generate some grant money.

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

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