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No-fishing zones: a draconian conservation measure

The Times and state regulators perpetuate the myth that fish populations off Southern California's coast are dangerously low.

November 25, 2009|By Don Hansen

California's anglers and boaters aren't sure which was more egregious: the state blue-ribbon task force's draconian decision to stifle California's offshore recreational fishing in the guise of protecting the ocean environment, or The Times' one-sided article on the subject, “Panel backs no-fishing zones off Southern California coast” (Nov. 11).

The article buys into the myth -- hook, line and sinker -- that because catches of some species have declined by as much as 95%, fish populations off the Southern California coast have fallen by similar levels over the last few decades. The article also states that some species would be in jeopardy of extinction if new marine protected areas were not created under the Marine Life Protection Act.

Recreational fishing and boating advocates have repeatedly rebuked that assertion and have the data to support that position. In July, Science magazine published an article by lead authors Boris Worm (a professor of marine biology at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Canada) and Ray Hilborn (professor of fisheries management at the University of Washington's School of Aquatic and Fisheries Science), stating unequivocally that California's current marine ecosystem has the lowest fishery exploitation rate of any place in the world.

The article further states that California's fish populations are presently flourishing thanks largely to sound fisheries management policies put into place several decades ago. Even California Department of Fish and Game biologists have stated that coastal fish populations are in good-to-excellent condition. That's a far cry from the 95% decline depicted in The Times' one-sided article.

On Nov. 10, the task force had an opportunity to do the right thing and listen to the 64 members of the Regional Stakeholders Group, who devoted more than a year to developing Proposal 2, which would strengthen conservation efforts and minimize the economic impact of lost fishing opportunities. It was drafted by a wide range of interests, including harbor masters, officials from several cities, commercial and recreational fishermen, boaters and the U.S. Department of Defense. Proposal 2 represents the true compromise between ocean protection and sustaining coastal economies.

We are looking to the Fish and Game Commission to make a wiser and better decision about this issue during its December meeting.

Don Hansen is the immediate past chairman of the Pacific Fishery Management Council.

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