San Diego County Marine Protected Areas Are Working

by on August 30, 2023 · 1 comment

in Environment, Ocean Beach, San Diego

In a report just for subscribers, journalist Ana Ramirez at the San Diego Union-Tribune today asked, “San Diego’s marine preserves limit fishing to protect sea life. Could boundary changes be coming?” Here are some excerpts from her report:

The underwater park off Encinitas is one of 11 of San Diego County’s marine protected areas, which were established about 10 years ago in an effort to restore waters depleted from overfishing and to preserve marine ecosystems. A decade later, California Fish and Wildlife is examining if that effort is working. The results of a 10-year review released in January indicated it was, with findings that include larger and more abundant fish inside local marine protected areas, known as MPAs for short.

The review is also exploring if more must be done to preserve these marine protected areas — steps that could include changing boundaries if requests from local conservation groups are met. …

Controversy over the implementation of MPAs has pitted recreational and commercial users against scientists and conservationists since the beginning. Fishers worried about the loss of their livelihoods and their favorite fishing spots, and they say they were misled by the government during the creation process. Voices of Indigenous people were left out of the conversation altogether. And scientists thought they were doing what was best to try to improve life in the marine ecosystems.

The natural tension still exists, but the groups seem to be rebuilding relationships and working together to find compromises. …

The idea behind an MPA is to leave it untouched so it can replenish naturally. The size of both the individual fish and the population as a whole should grow and eventually result in spillover, meaning marine life exceed the capacity of that area and move out to adjacent populations. There is also an opportunity for growth in habitat that will help combat the effects of climate change. …

California has 1,100 miles coastline, with 16 percent of the state’s ocean water designated as MPAs — 124 total, including four off La Jolla and three lagoons in North County.

Regulations differ among various marine protected areas, depending on the needs of the specific habitat. For example an MPA designated as a state marine conservation area — such as Swami’s — allows certain take such as finfish by hook-and-line from shore or pelagic fish by spearfishing. A state marine reserve and “no take” state marine conservation area are more restrictive and don’t allow any fishing, and absolutely nothing natural can be taken out — not even a shell. Recreating such as swimming, diving and kayaking are still allowed in most areas other than lagoons, and boating is allowed in certain areas. …

California Legislature approved the Marine Life Protection Act in 1999, prompted by an over-developed fishing fleet and overfishing of 10 species that feed from or near the bottom. But the effort came with little funding. A couple of attempts to create marine protected areas were unsuccessful until 2004.

“That effort essentially resulted in the largest ecologically connected network in the world,” said Stephen Wertz, senior environmental scientist for the Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Marine Protected Areas Management Program, who led in drafting the 10-year review.

The areas were designed to have a variety of ecosystems — such as kelp forests, sandy flats and rocky reefs — and to be distanced far enough apart to allow for less restricted activities outside of the MPAs but close enough to where they benefit one another. …

These protected systems are considered young, and studies show that it takes 10 to 20 years to start seeing real change. One of the reasons is the lifespan of some of the species that live in these habitats — species of rockfish live between 20 to 50 years, for example, and take years to reach reproductive maturity.

“But the early information is showing that it is working,” he said. “It just kind of takes time to be definitive.” …

The state Fish and Wildlife agency, which is tasked with managing and enforcing the network of MPAs, took more than a year to evaluate the findings. But it is up to California Fish and Game Commission members to make decisions on how the protected areas are ultimately managed.

In July, California Fish and Game Commission’s Marine Resources Committee met with stakeholders — such as fishers, conservationists, law enforcement and tribes — to go over recommendations about how to further manage the network and to prioritize which ones to take on first.

There are 28 recommendations with 82 action items for the commission to consider.

“A lot of areas that we’ve monitored, we can see that fish are larger and more abundant inside marine protected areas and that in some cases habitats are more resilient inside marine protected areas,” said Samantha Murray, a commissioner and executive director of a master’s program at Scripps. “And also the MPAs are giving us a baseline for researching our ocean, especially in the face of changing ocean conditions.”

In considering the recommendations, one of the commission’s priorities will be looking at what has been effective so far and what needs to be changed in the MPA system to be more successful for the future, said Murray.

“Looking at the boundaries, looking at the kinds of activities that are allowed or prohibited inside MPA boundaries and seeing if there are any changes we want to make to those,” she said.

The public has until November to petition for what else should be included in these recommendations or suggest changes.

Another priority is making sure that everyone has a voice, including bird watchers, the fishing community, surfers and especially tribes, whose stewardship rights were overlooked in the past.

The commission will then look at the requests and decide which are warranted by mid-December. Changes wouldn’t start taking place until most likely 2025.

The review comes more than a year after the United States signed on to the 30×30 Initiative, an ambition of protecting 30 percent of the world’s land and oceans by 2030. Some have raised concerns that the initiative will create pressure to expand current MPAs — especially in California, where Gov. Gavin Newsom signed an executive order in 2020 to combat the biodiversity and climate crisis with the state’s own 30×30 goal. Officials say none of the management recommendations are linked to the 30×30, but it is among several tools in getting to the goal.

Murray said she can’t predict what petitions will be submitted. “But as a commission (expansion) is not our goal,” she said.

One group, the San Diego MPA Collaborative, has discussed recommending changes in boundaries to the Batiquitos Lagoon, the Swami’s State Marine Conservation Area, San Elijo Lagoon and San Dieguito Lagoon, according to notes from a June 26 meeting reviewed by the Union-Tribune. There wasn’t a consensus on expanding the boundaries but there was more of an agreement to possibly align names to give clarity. Each had various justification such as confusion with boundaries or the difficulty in enforcement. The group has yet to submit their petition.

WILDCOAST, a bi-national nonprofit and partner of the San Diego MPA Collaborative that helps monitor the marine protected areas, said it is also proposing changing names of some of the areas to make the rules less confusing to recreational users.

The nonprofit would also like to add a restriction of no-surf fishing from shore within the San Diego-Scripps Coastal MPA.




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Mateo September 1, 2023 at 11:12 am

Rose Creek the only natural fresh water tributary to Mission Bay has been a dumping ground, robbed of city services for over 70 years. Friends of Rose Creek has been SOLELY responsible for trash collecting along Rose Creek WITHOUT ANY CITY INTERVENTION WHATSOEVER.

To this day San Diego Wastewater refuses to maintain ANY trash collection along the bike path from north of Garnet to the San Diego Boat and Ski Club, which has voluntarily and valiantly tried to keep that area of Rose Creek and all of the trash the result of our homeless encampments in this area clean. Campbell took NO ACTION and nothing but crickets from our newly gerrymandered City Councilmember “Environmental” Joe LaCava.


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