We have marine protected areas. What happens next?

They are here! They are here! They are here! 

Over the last four years, I have, on occasion, felt like a small little Who down in Whoville shouting from the top of my desktop to the world around me that I believe California needs marine protected areas. When enough other Whos joined in with the shouting, our message was heard loud and clear.  And now, thanks to the landmark decision by the California Fish and Game Commission on Dec. 15, 2010, the south coast of Cali has a bright, shiny new network of MPAs.

And now you may be pondering: what happens next? Well curious cookie, I will tell you what I know. Right now, while you are at the laundromat reading this blog on your iphone, the newly adopted MPA regulations are going through their last spin on the administrative proof-reading cycle. Soon they will get passed over to the appropriate desk in the Office of Administrative Law for approval before they actually go into effect, which is expected sometime in 2011.

Translation: We know where the new MPAs are going to be (check out the map here), but the new rules aren’t officially in place yet, so for now fishing is still allowed in all the spots that will be legally protected later this year.

And how will you and I know where the boundaries are? To start, the MPAs begin and end at easily-recognized landmarks (for example, the new south La Jolla MPA goes from Palomar Street down to Missouri Street). Boundary coordinates will be incorporated into boating GPS systems and on navigation maps. I’m certain we will see some lovely, permanent signage pop up in the near future around the actual MPAs, and you can always find the information on the internet – like Coastkeeper’s website and the Department of Fish and Game’s site.

There is also a whole component of monitoring and enforcing these gems. It will be the Department of Fish and Game’s responsibility to enforce the new regulations on the water, though the MPAs were strategically placed near city, state and national parks and beaches so land-based staff (like lifeguards) can help with monitoring and community education. But we’re also counting on the fishing community to continue its longstanding heritage of respecting fishing regulations, which will ease the responsibility of enforcement.

An entity called the Marine Protected Area Monitoring Enterprise is leading a consultative process to develop an efficient, cost-effective South Coast MPA Monitoring Plan. They are working with a variety or groups on the best ways to assess the performance of the MPAs – checking the state of the marine ecosystems over time, to see how wildlife improves or changes.  

Of course, collaborative stewardship is the most essential ingredient to successful monitoring and enforcement. Scripps Institution of Oceanography, NOAA, Bureau of Land Management and National Parks Service have already stepped up to help with research, education, outreach and compliance. Many of the aquaria have exhibits or displays on MPAs for public education. And the Orange County Marine Protected Areas Committee is a good example of government and community groups working together on ocean protection – fear not, we are already working on establishing similar groups here in San Diego.

Yes, there is still a lot to come. And yes, we should still be celebrating what we have accomplished together! You are the reason there will be marine wildlife for a long, long time.

Thanks for all the fish!

Published in Marine Conservation

In Case You Missed It: Keeping California’s Prime Fishing Spots Open

fisherman-sCalifornia’s Marine Life Protection Act was passed to safeguard the health and productivity of ocean resources, and well-designed marine reserves have been shown to boost fishing yields and profits. By protecting the places where fish and shellfish feed and breed, California can rebuild depleted fish populations while leaving the vast majority of coastal waters open to fishing (see a map of fishing areas left open under a compromise marine protected area plan proposed for southern California).

Bill Weinerth has been fishing off California’s coast for more than 50 years. In an opinion editorial in Saturday’s Ventura County Star, he said:

I say that if we don’t set aside some key spots now, we won’t have any reason to pass on our fishing knowledge; there will be few fish left. Our fishing experiences and traditions are falling into myth: I couldn’t take my boys back to the places in Malibu where my dad taught me and expect to pull in the same size and quantity. The simple fact is, the fish we do catch are smaller and it’s harder to get them.

My sons, skilled fishermen, have to go farther out every year for those smaller fish. The fishing culture of my childhood is not there anymore — but I believe that marine protected areas can help bring back some of what we’ve lost.


California’s Ocean Heritage: Past and Future (Click to view and read large version)

Weinerth’s experience of fewer and smaller fish is borne out by the data. According to the Pacific Fisheries Management Council’s research, California’s commercial fishing revenues have declined by more than half since 1990, and the number of fishing boats calling at California ports has declined by nearly three quarters in the same period.

A well-designed system of marine reserves and protected areas would help rebuild California’s struggling fishing industry. It worked at the Channel Islands, where, five years after the state established a network of marine reserves, a study found that sportfishing had increased as had commercial landings for some of the Island’s largest fisheries: squid, urchin, lobster and crab.

Plans for Southern California’s new marine protected area network will be finalized by the Fish and Game Commission at their December 15 meeting in Santa Barbara. Ocean advocates, who dominated the public comment session at the Commission’s October meeting, are expected to make a strong showing again, urging protection of treasured places like La Jolla, Catalina, and Naples Reef off the Gaviota Coast. The time is now to make your voice heard to the Commission, so please write a letter or take a scenic ride up to Santa Barbara to be a part of history.

Published in Marine Conservation

Let Children Speak For Themselves

children_mplaI want to express deep gratitude to all of you who attended the California Fish & Game Commission meeting yesterday to speak up for a healthy coast, as well as everyone who has supported the Marine Life Protection Act process at every step of the way. Thanks to you we are on the right road and have taken a giant leap towards a sustainable network of marine state parks! We had unbelievable speakers, and the shear volume of supporters filled the meeting hall to capacity and spilled over into the courtyard and beyond. EPIC JOB FOLKS!

That said, I want to touch on something that upset me greatly at the meeting and has been on my mind since. As many of you are aware, large groups of students from all over San Diego attended the meeting to show their support for conservation. Over the past several months these students have done their own research, created projects, and worked tirelessly to prepare to present their views on the importance of marine protected areas to the commission. I know because I was with them every step of the way.

Due to time constraints and the volume of public comment many students did not have the opportunity to speak. This is regrettable but understandable.


Student presenter Genevieve Baumann speaks with North County Times Reporter Deborah Sullivan Brennan regarding comments that she was “coerced” to testify.

What is entirely unacceptable, absolutely appalling, and the cause of a very unhealthy spike in my blood pressure, is the insinuation by some members of the opposition that these students were somehow deceived, manipulated or coerced into attendance. How disrespectful! How wrong! How completely offensive to young people doing everything they can to defend their right to live in a community that values their views and protects the environment that belongs to them! (Check out this article in the North County Times in which one of the students gives her response.)

How insulting to teachers who have made a proud career of encouraging the future of our state to learn and grow and think for themselves! Incorporating environmental protection into a curriculum is not coercion! It is a testament to their passion for their students and the health of their community!

mlpa_meeting_san_diegoI could go on forever about the heroics and maturity of San Diego’s youth, and about the crass hypocrisy of those with the audacity to try and debase them. I won’t because there isn’t room here, and I don’t want to have a stroke.

Instead I have a favor to ask of you: Please show your support for the students who put themselves on the line to defend something precious to us all. Please comment here, or email me at ericb@sdcoastkeeper.org and I will be more than happy to pass your messages along. These brave people put a huge collective effort into doing something great, and it is critical that they feel our appreciation!

Published in Marine Conservation

Explore the Underwater World



“How inappropriate to call this planet Earth, when it clearly should be named Ocean.”
— Sir Arthur C. Clarke

Imagine exploring another world just beneath the surface of the ocean. As you enter the blue water you see sunlight streaming through majestic stalks of giant kelp and know you are in for a great dive. You head to the bottom of the ocean and start looking for colorful creatures including nudibranchs, anemones and fish hiding in crevices.

While diving, there is nothing quite like the exhilaration of seeing a shark swim gracefully by you, the humor in a curious Harbor Seal peering over your shoulder or the awe in watching dozens of playful sea lions whizzing by you. I feel so fortunate that I get to explore the underwater world and see these strange and beautiful creatures. SCUBA diving is why I chose a career working to protect marine and coastal resources. I want to be a voice for the ocean, and do what I can to protect this amazing world and the animals that call it home.

Right now, you have the chance to make history and support stronger, expanded marine protected areas in southern California. It is imperative that we protect these special places for future generations to enjoy.

Now, call a buddy, don your gear, and explore San Diego’s underwater world. I know I will soon!

If you want to help protect the Yosemite’s of the sea:
•    Write the Fish & Game Commission to tell them to select strong marine protected areas in San Diego
•    Eat sustainable Seafood
•    Volunteer for a beach cleanup, water monitoring or our volunteer core

Published in Marine Conservation

Can you imagine California without its parks?


Last weekend a close friend and I sat on the banks of a pristine glacial lake along the John Muir Trail, 12,000 feet above the madness of human development. In reverent silence we reflected on the magnificence of the park and our debt of gratitude to those who fought to protect it.

Can you imagine California without its parks?

In a world where natural beauty too easily falls prey to greed, where would California be without John Muir, Edward Abbey, and all those who have fought to keep the wilderness wild?

Today we find ourselves entrenched again in the age-old battle to protect that which cannot protect itself.  Our coastal wilderness has endured a century of unbridled assault and protective neglect.  Its remoteness has left its destruction out of sight and out mind while our local kelp forests bear more and more resemblance to the clear-cut wastelands of the Pacific Northwest.  


No more!  Does a vibrant kelp forest inspire less awe than a pine forest?  Is an underwater canyon less majestic than a granite peak?  Does a thresher shark deserve less respect than a black bear?  It’s time to extend park status to our states underwater treasures.  We can be the John Muirs of our generation.  We can make our children proud of us.  We can keep California wild.

The California Fish and Game Commission is holding a public comment hearing on Wednesday, October 20 to discuss whether and where to create underwater state parks along the southern California coast.  Get there and speak up.  Make South La Jolla the next Yosemite.  Make Swamis the next Kings Canyon.

See you there!

Published in Marine Conservation

Save the Date for California Fish & Game Commission Meeting

If you had the opportunity to watch the absolutely “invigorating” meeting of the Fish and Game Commission on June 23 and June 24, you know that it was anything but. The only agenda item dedicated to the Marine Life Protection Act was the timeline for the approval of the south coast Marne Life Protection Act. This update modified the timeline for implementation by one month. As a result, we are not expecting the final adoption until at least November.

The delay is in large part due to the development of the California Environmental Quality Act’s (CEQA) Environmental Impact Report(EIR). CEQA, passed in 1970, requires an environmental impact study on any public or private development project in California. These reports are intended to fully inform both lawmakers and the public on the total environmental impacts of a given project. In this case, it will be the potential negative environmental impact of environmental protections. The irony.

Due to the size and population of Southern California, previous baselines and assumptions used for the central coast EIR could not be used for developing the EIR for Southern California; therefore, it will take longer than previously anticipated to develop.

This is just a minor change. One of the most important Fish and Game Commission meetings will still be the August 4 and 5 meeting in Santa Barabara, Calif. This meeting will be the last opportunity for the public to advocate our support for the strongest science-based option “proposal #3” directly to the Fish and Game Commissioners. We need as many supporters to attend as possible. If you are interested or can attend please contact me at Jeremya@sdcoastkeeper.org.

Published in Marine Conservation

Vote with your fork

A lot of people these days want to feel a sense of place in the things they eat. Whether they do it for culinary or environmental reasons, there’s a growing demand in San Diego for locally sourced food. You can easily find local citrus and squash at your neighborhood farmer’s market, but things get a lot murkier when it comes to seafood.  While there some notable ‘farm-to-table’ and ‘slow food’ exceptions to the rule, chances are when you’re biting into a fish taco in Ocean Beach or sushi in a fancy restaurant, the protein on your plate was caught thousands of miles away.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported last year that more than three-fourths of the fish Americans eat comes from other countries.  You’d think San Diego might be the exception, since we’re right on the ocean.  But many of us tuck into Alaskan king crab or Chilean sea bass without a second thought.

Part of the reason it’s tough to find and support restaurants that serve local fish is because there just aren’t as many fish as there used to be. In the 1980s, we had a tuna fishing fleet to rival any in the world. Fishermen and processors would deliver fresh-caught tuna straight to markets and restaurants to be served that day.

Then the tuna fishery started to dwindle. Nowadays, the only thing we have that even comes close is our sardines, which are sustainable and local, but are mostly used as bait for larger fish. Even the restaurants that make a concerted effort to buy local often rely heavily on fish from places like Baja, China and Greece.

A recent New York Times article highlighted a similar challenge in San Francisco.  The decline of California fisheries has made it hard even for people in the Bay Area—where they invented the term locavore—to get local seafood. In 2007, California commercial fisheries landings were down by almost half from 2000, according to the National Ocean Economics Program. And the value had dropped by more than half, from $276.5 million to $120.2 million. We’re seeing the same troubling trend here in San Diego County, where the numbers of fishing boats, trips and processors are all steadily declining, along with commercial revenues.

Thankfully, California is in the midst of implementing the Marine Life Protection Act, a landmark law designed to restore declining sea life populations through a mixture of science and community input. The result will be a network of protected “underwater parks” where fish stocks can recover and grow.  Such networks are already in place between Half Moon Bay and Point Conception, and the wheels are in motion for creating protections for our home waters here in Southern California.

California is poised to set the gold standard for ocean protection, but we’ve got to meet the promise of the law with sound implementation. In August, the Fish and Game Commission voted to create a network of underwater parks from Mendocino to Half Moon Bay, protecting 155 square miles of vital kelp beds, canyons and rocky reefs where fish and shellfish feed and breed.  These protections will help support the recovery of depleted fisheries like rock fish and abalone.

Here in Southern California, Fish and Game is considering four possible marine protected area plans, weighing the importance of our ocean’s long-term health and productivity against short-term costs.  They will move forward with a final decision in the fall of 2010, after a thorough economic and scientific review of the options on the table. I for one hope they vote for strong protections—it’s an investment that will pay big dividends.

If we don’t take steps now to help our troubled ocean resources, we’ll continue to see more and more farmed fish or fish from far off places on our plates. I hope we can look forward to a day when the local yellowtail, halibut and swordfish that used to flourish in our waters come back in great numbers. Until then, I encourage you to vote with your fork and request local, sustainably harvested seafood from our nearby restaurants.

Published in Marine Conservation