California Anglers Misinformed on Closures
In June, the California Fish and Game Commission (FGC) voted to delay implementing regulations adopted last December for the South Coast Study Area under the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) until October 1, 2011. These new regulations, which would close much of southern California’s best coastal waters to sportfishing, are not yet in effect. Misinformation — including statements by the Department of Fish and Game several months ago — has many anglers under the false impression that these waters are now and have been closed since early spring.
“Anglers need to understand that the ‘marine protected areas’ designated by the Commission last December are still open for fishing, and will be at least until October 1 of this year. And, the validity of these regulations is being challenged in court; that battle is far from over,” said Mike Leonard, Ocean Resource Policy director for the American Sportfishing Association (ASA). “Much can happen between now and October 1. The Department should not have made statements that the areas are already closed. These statements are simply not true and are unfair to the millions of anglers who pay for California’s fisheries management through license sales and the federal excise tax on fishing tackle and motorboat fuels.”
The Department’s Ocean Sport Fishing Regulations booklet, posted March 1, 2011, erroneously states that the regulations went into effect in spring 2011. Prior to the vote, the department’s website stated only that the regulations were expected to be effective mid-2011.
In response to the general uncertainty within the sportfishing community regarding the South Coast MLPA regulations, the Partnership for Sustainable Oceans (PSO), which represents California’s recreational fishing and boating community, sent a letter to the Department of Fish and Game. The PSO expressed its serious concerns about the misinformation provided to anglers about the effective date of the South Coast MLPA regulations. The errors have since been corrected.
“We’ve never seen a state so determined to destroy an activity that generates both income and jobs and as well as funding for fisheries conservation,” Leonard further said.
“In talking with numerous anglers, I’ve noticed that there is considerable confusion about whether or not coastal waters are still open to recreational fishing,” said Bob Fletcher, former president of the Sportfishing Association of California. “The state’s miscommunications are causing anglers to unnecessarily stay off the water for fear that the regulations are already in place. On behalf of the Partnership for Sustainable Oceans, I’d like Southern California’s anglers and the tens-of-thousands more who come to this region to fish each year to know they are still free to pursue our state’s healthy marine fisheries.”
Apart from controversies about their effective date, the MPA designations in the South Coast are currently being challenged in the courts. On January 27, 2011, United Anglers of Southern California, Coastside Fishing Club and Bob Fletcher filed a lawsuit in the San Diego County Superior Court seeking to set aside the MPA designations for the North Central and South Coast study regions. The lawsuit cites a lack of statutory authority for the Fish and Game Commission to adopt the regulations, and, in the case of the South Coast regulations, numerous violations of the California Environmental Quality Act in the Commission’s environmental review of the regulations.
On May 31, the California’s sportfishing community claimed its third legal victory in the legal effort against the MLPA Initiative when a San Diego Superior Court judge ordered that two environmental ocean closure advocate organizations had no legal right to intervene in the aforementioned lawsuit. Last year, Fletcher filed and won a suit against the MLPA Blue Ribbon Task Force and Master Plan Team for failing to provide documents related to their MLPA planning efforts. These groups incorrectly claimed that they were not required to make their records available to the public under the Public Records Act on the mistaken theory that they are not “state agencies.”
Once these records were finally disclosed, numerous long-standing suspicions about the lack of openness and transparency within the MLPA process were confirmed, including that the Blue Ribbon Task Force met numerous times outside of the public view in scheduled private meetings. A California Superior Court ruling later ordered the Blue Ribbon Task Force and Master Plan Team to pay 100-percent of the legal fees incurred by members of the PSO in the Public Records Act case.
All anglers, and anyone who supports public access to public resources, are urged to help fight the flawed MLPA process in the courts by visiting www.OceanAccessProtectionFund.org and making a donation today.