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Volunteers to help patrol new marine sanctuaries

Some worry about a clash between environmentalists and fishing enthusiasts if violators are confronted by observers who hold no law enforcement authority.

December 31, 2011|By Tony Barboza, Los Angeles Times

"If a private citizen with no authority comes up and tells fishermen not to do something, they may or may not believe the person is telling them the truth," said Bob Fletcher, an advisor and past president of the Sportfishing Assn. of California, an industry group that opposes the sanctuaries that were adopted. "It may just create animosity between the environmentalists and fishing groups, who are going to be affected very negatively by these areas because they were really productive."

Fish and Game officials stressed that only their officers can enforce the law. Still, the agency intends to act on information from environmental groups and from a poaching tip line described as "a confidential secret witness program."

"We don't have any illusion that we're going to catch everybody," said Paul Hamdorf, assistant chief of the agency's law enforcement division, who oversees wardens in Southern California. "But if these groups are noticing a lot of violations every Saturday at a particular time and it would direct us how to best use our resources, then we might use it."

Those found fishing in a closed area could face a warning and reminder about the restrictions, a ticket or arrest.

Scientists will be monitoring the areas too, trying to determine how effective they are at replenishing marine life.

University researchers, citizen-science volunteers, and even some lobster fishermen will be participating in studies in a variety of marine habitats. Some will count and measure key fish, invertebrates and algae in rocky reefs and kelp forests while others will tag and capture spiny lobsters to see if the restrictions have the intended "spillover" effect, increasing fish abundance outside the limits of the sanctuaries. One study will try to gauge how three sectors of the coastal economy — private recreation, commercial fishing and charter boat tourism — change once the reserves are in place.

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