Something’s fishy

The MLPA ban on recreational fishing is too much

Alastair Bland is an SN&R contributor.

As the Marine Life Protection Act moves into its North Central Coast Phase, why are environmentalists and fishermen standing on opposite sides of the picket line?

Both want the same thing—abundant ocean resources—but modern urbanity has created a subculture of nouveau “environmentalists.” Without a relationship to nature and the environment, some such people harbor a notion that anyone who catches a fish is an enemy of the sea. Thus, we have the essence of the Marine Life Protection Act.

First passed in 1999, the MLPA’s goals include restoring depleted fish stocks. Many supporters of the MLPA have taken aim at recreational fishing to meet those goals, seeking to ban the activity indefinitely along some 15 to 25 percent of the California coast.

Recreational fishermen, meanwhile, argue that pollution and large-scale commercial operations, wrought with bycatch and sheer tonnage, are the reason for fisheries’ collapse. Moreover, anglers say that fishing, more than anything, fosters personal relationships between people and the sea.

The irony of modern environmentalism is perhaps most clearly framed by the current plight of Anchor Bay resident Cate Carre, one of many people along the Sonoma and Mendocino coasts who fears that their relationship with the ocean could soon wither. Carre, who lives a mere five-minute walk from the ocean, has access to a bounty of shellfish, kelp and fish. With this seafood, Carre supplements a diet of garden vegetables, orchard fruits, wild mushrooms and starchy staples. She virtually lives off the land. She rarely shops, and she takes out the trash once every two years. It could be argued that Carre lives the most sustainable lifestyle possible.

Yet elsewhere in the state, well-meaning but unknowing activists are fighting to bar such low-impact harvesters from the water—and by December, when the current North Central Coast Phase of the MLPA is scheduled to take effect, the shoreline for miles to the north and south of Carre’s home may be tagged forever with red tape.

The MLPA Blue Ribbon Task Force, a board of five state-appointed experts in various fields, is currently considering what regions and activities to put off-limits to the state’s fishing community of boaters, kayakers, divers and “rockpickers.” But many opponents of the MLPA charge that this public process is following a predetermined private agenda. They point straight to task force member Meg Caldwell, also the interim director of the Center for Ocean Solutions, an environmental research center in Monterey.

Now things get fishy. The Center for Ocean Solutions was created with $25 million from The David and Lucile Packard Foundation. The Packard Foundation also provides 75 percent of the annual funding for the Monterey Bay Aquarium, an outspoken advocate of the MLPA proposals now under review by Caldwell herself.

The irony of the MLPA and the good intentions of the environmentalists who support it is that local seafood could become a thing of the past, conservationists could find themselves without access to the ocean they fought to preserve and low-impact harvesters like Carre could find themselves with no more direct motivation to protect and communicate with the ocean they love.