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Marine-protected areas: a good idea, as long as network is not too extensive

March 11, 2009 | 10:22 am

Cabopulmo2

A few days ago, I published an item with critical commentary regarding a map revealing a frightening slate (to anglers) of proposed no-take reserves in Southern California, as part of the ongoing Marine Life Protection Act process.

Many on the environmental protection side of the issue responded angrily, saying the report was one-sided and biased. Guilty as charged. This is my blog, in which I'm free to editorialize.

I'm an angler. Anglers aren't villains and sportfishing is not largely responsible for a decline in certain fisheries. Commercial fishing, perhaps, but not sportfishing.

My recent post was merely to show the anglers their worst-case scenario: the map with the most proposed no-take reserves, strategically placed in most of their favorite fishing areas along the coast and at the islands.

That said, I'm not against establishing a responsible network of marine-protected areas, and hope that's what will result after this MLPA process is complete.

I'm certainly not against boosting fisheries that are suffering because of many factors, including loss of estuary habitat, pollution and global warming.

But no-take reserves can be effective. I've witnessed their benefits first-hand, at Cabo Pulmo National Marine Park in Baja California Sur on the Sea of Cortez.

The park, which stretches nine miles along the Baja coast and extends four miles to sea, was established in 1995. Since then, I've been scuba diving within the park every few years with Mark Rayor, owner of Vista Sea Sport.

Cabopulmo1

Each time there were more resident species, such as groupers, and the last time I went, two years ago, those groupers were so large it was frightening.

Above a sea floor abounding with colorful live coral was an astonishing array of sea life. Enormous schools of rays and jacks would swim through occasionally and eclipse the sun.

Rayor, who is also an avid angler, theorized that some species know they're protected within park boundaries. That may be giving fish too much credit, but it's clear that the marauding jacks swim into the reserve to prey upon an abundant supply of sardines and other small fish.

Ironically, it's fishermen such as Rayor, and those from the East Cape hotel fleets, who police the reserve.

So reserves are effective, and Southern California fisheries probably would benefit from a strategic network. But that network should not be so extensive that it jeopardizes the viability of our billion-dollar sportfishing industry. Because it doesn't need to be.

-- Pete Thomas

Photos of Cabo Pulmo National Marine Park by Bob Carey/Los Angeles Times (top) and Abe Shrekenhamer

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