Location: Noyo Harbor
|The Preferred Alternative for the MLPA in northern-central California will destroy a perfectly healthy abalone fishery for no good reason. The "Integrated Preferred Alternative" (IPA) represents a loss of 30% of the public access shore diving sites and an effort shift of 20% in landings. Most of this effort will shift to Fort Ross, already heavily used by abalone divers. It will set up a domino effect of lowering bag limits and more closed coves to head off serial depletion of the resource.
Here is the letter we submitted to the Commission:
September 4th, 2008
Richard Rogers, President
California Fish and Game Commission
1416 Ninth Street
Sacramento CA 95814-2090
RE: MLPA; Proposed Regulations for Marine Protected Areas in the North Central
Dear President Rogers,
The undersigned individuals and associations have engaged in the MLPA public
process and commend the staff and stakeholders for presenting you with a range of
alternative network proposals.
We do, however, have serious concerns about the "Integrated Preferred
Alternative" (IPA). Our comments center on the area between Jenner and Point Arena,
and the cumulative impacts to the abalone resource. If the IPA proposals in this area are
adopted without alteration, the regulations will be catastrophic for the abalone resource
and the fishery.
To address these serious concerns, we strongly urge you to make the following five
changes to the IPA:
• Move the southern boundary of the Stewart Point State Marine Reserve north
to 38 degrees, 37.5 minutes.
• Remove the "Sea Lion Cove" State Marine Conservation Area.
• Allow the continuance of recreational abalone diving in the Russian River
• Remove the "Saunders Reef" State Marine Conservation Area.
• Change the "Salt Point" State Marine Park into a State Marine Conservation
First, some general comments on the potential impact of the IPA to the abalone
resource, and implications for fishery management:
Nowhere in fishery management is the problem of effort shift more acute than in
our recreational abalone fishery on the north coast. Abalone are a relatively
immobile resource. Concentrating effort into the very limited access will
negatively impact the resource.
Our abalone fishery has had a very large reserve component for fifty years. Scuba
gear is prohibited, and breath-hold freedivers cannot reach the deeper animals. As
a result, abalone populations that are deeper than freedivers can dive (20 feet)
serve as a de facto reserve throughout the fishery. This fact, combined with many
miles of private property and sheer cliffs in the area, has created major reserves -
forty years before the MLPA came into existence.
Abnormally high population densities of abalone on the north coast exist because
of good fishery management. Stocks are managed for abundance. Current DFG
estimates indicate that abalone abundance averages 7,400 per hectare fishery wide
– well above the sustainable fishery levels of 6,600 per hectare.
An improperly designed network of marine protected areas can damage the
abalone population structure if it does not take into account human use patterns.
Effort shift and management implications were addressed in the Abalone
Recovery and Management Plan (ARMP) and the Commission should consider
the implications for this fishery's management when voting on MPAs.
Regarding "Total Allowable Catch (TAC) Adjustments in the Event of Site
Closures," the ARMP states: "The interim management plan allows for site
closure in the event of localized population declines (Section 220.127.116.11 Site
Closure). In the event of a site closure, the TAC will be reduced to address the
potential shift in effort to other areas. With discrete area codes from the report
cards, an estimate of specific site productivity can be determined and the TAC can
be adjusted. However, an adjustment in the TAC would not completely protect
areas outside the site closure from effort shift and subsequent population
Northern California recreational abalone divers have worked for decades to
preserve what has become the world's premier example of good fishery
management. From the banning of scuba gear back in the 1960's, to the reduced
harvest limits we have today, self-regulation of our recreational abalone fishery
has outpaced the rest of the world.
Abalone divers have been at the forefront on the battle against the illegal
commercialization of wildlife. The Sonoma County Abalone Network (SCAN)
has contributed tens of thousands of dollars to enforcement. The Recreational
Fishing Alliance (RFA) and SCAN have worked successfully with the California
Outdoor Heritage Alliance and the Natural Resources Defense Council to increase
poaching penalties in the legislature.
The CEQA scoping comments submitted by the RFA included a request to assess
the overall effort shift in the abalone fishery that likely will occur as a result of the IPA.
The Abalone Recovery and Management Plan (ARMP) sets numerical triggers to close
sites or reduce the overall TAC when abundance levels drop below self-sustaining
populations at any of the monitored fishing sites. The ARMP is the only fishery
management plan that anticipates closures and integrates MPAs into fishery management.
As effort shifts due to MPA closures the ARMP will trigger additional closures and additional effort shift. A domino effect of closures, resource decline and socio-economic
losses will occur. The cumulative impact of these closures must be considered before
adopting the final MLPA regulations.
An easy partial mitigation of these likely cumulative impacts would be to move the
southern boundary of the Stewart Point Marine Reserve north to 38 degrees, 37.5
minutes, in the preferred alternative. The other requested changes will also significantly
reduce this and other unintended negative impacts of the IPA. These changes would in
no way reduce the level of protection for the entire network and would avoid some
predictable consequences from the shift in effort from Stewarts Point to Fort Ross
Move the southern boundary of the proposed Stewarts Point Marine Reserve north the
38 degrees, 37.5 minutes, for the following reasons:
In this study region, Bodega Bay is the only harbor with a real boat launch ramp
north of the Golden Gate. The next harbor with a boat launch ramp is in Fort
Bragg, some 110 miles to the north. Abalone diving is done in shallow water
close to rocky habitat. It can be dangerous to take 25' + boats into these areas, or
its a long swim for the very small amount of people who use them. The abalone
fishery in the region is limited to shore-based diving, or from inflatable rafts and
kayaks, within very limited ranges. For these reasons, the abalone fishery is a
A quick glance at the terrain in this region north of Jenner shows a large majority
of the coast is inaccessible because of sheer cliffs or private property. If you visit
"Google Earth" on the Internet for the coast north of Jenner, you can see these
cliffs. These cliffs, and private property, create de facto reserves, as divers cannot
access them. If you look at the access points from Fort Ross to Point Arena, on
the MLPA maps you can see there are only 30 points in all those miles.
The IPA proposes a reserve which starts at Fisk Mill Cove and which includes
state property for about 1.5 miles north – a closure that would impact a substantial
amount of public access. On average, over 12,000 abalone per year are legally
taken out of this area. Closure of this area will cause virtually all this effort to
shift into the five areas to the south. Based on our experience with the fishery, we
believe that much of this effort will be shifted to Fort Ross. Concentration of
effort will eventually cause one of the five major access points to the south to
close. That effort shift will spread into the remaining four, and the domino effect
The landings for the five major access points to the south are:
Fort Ross: 37,386
Timber Cove: 8,660
Stillwater Cove: 3,858
Ocean Cove: 6,191
Salt Point: 10,512
Fisk Mill Cove and Fort Ross are the two areas best protected from the northwest
swell. Divers use these areas the most when conditions are rough. (Fisk Mill Cove
is located within the proposed Stewarts Point SMR.)
Adding the take of over 12,000 more abalone to these areas, especially Fort Ross,
will cause undue hardship on the fishery and the abalone resource as a whole.
For the abalone fishery, this SMR will only create an effort shift, and most likely
will not contribute to a sustainable fishery in the future. The legislative intent of
the MLPA statue, in part, addressed the "illusion of protection" created by
existing marine protected areas. As proposed in the IPA, the Stewarts Point SMR
would continue this illusion.
The proposed "Sea Lion Cove" SMCA should not be approved for the following
• This proposed conservation area is adjacent to the newly acquired public lands at
the Stornetta Ranch at Point Arena in Mendocino County. These public lands
were purchased with $7 million in public and private funds. Recreational fishing
contributed $1 million through a US Fish & Wildlife Grant from the Sport Fish
Restoration Fund, raised by an eleven percent excise tax on sportfishing gear.
• A considerable amount of misinformation has been disseminated about the health
of the abalone fishery at Sea Lion Cove. The confusion can be traced to public
comments about a Fish and Game study on intertidal habitats (above water at
low tide). The vast majority of abalone live subtidal and most of the area of the
proposed closure are untouched. The very limited data obtained in this survey
has no reflection on the overall health of the resource at this cove. To draw any
conclusions from this survey would be misleading. There is an unnatural
abundance of abalone in the region.
• The DFG's Feasibility Guidelines released prior to the IPA indicated that the Sea
Lion Cove SCMA did not meet the standards for ecosystem protection,
enforceability and size and spacing standards.
• The regulations prohibit a very limited range of harvested species – red abalone
and a few types of seaweed.
The Saunders Reef SMCA should be eliminated from the IPA for the following
It does not meet the science advisory team's guidelines;
It only addresses one habitat type – rocky intertidal;
It adds the illusion of protection to the network of MPAs in the region;
It violates the DFG's Feasibility Guidelines as well as the intent of the statute with
respect to ecosystem management;
It creates a tiny box of fishing and diving access, bounded to the north by the
proposed Point Arena State Marine Reserve, which creates an unnecessary
concentration of effort at Point Arena's harbor.
Allow continuance of abalone diving at the Russian River SCMA for the following
• The goal of this proposed SMCA is to protect spawning aggregations of ESA
listed Chinook salmon entering and returning the Russian River system. The
regulations achieve this by prohibiting all fishing hooks or by all hooks in the
conservation area. At the same time, the SMCA would continue to allow the take
of crabs and surf smelt.
• The types of allowed take places the proposed Russian River SMCA at the SAT
protection level of 4 (Moderate Protection level). Recreational abalone fishing is
also assigned the Moderate Protection level of 4, and is a fishery with a zero by-
catch. In no way would the continuance of the recreational abalone fishery
interfere with the goal of this proposed SMCA.
• Continued access at Jenner will reduce abalone fishing pressure at nearby Ft.
Ross, and will mitigate for the loss of access at the Bodega Head, Salmon Creek
and Pt. Reyes sites to the south.
Change the Salt Point State Marine Park into a conservation area for the following
• The original legislation under both the MLPA and the Marine Management Area
Improvement Act do not provide clear direction as to which agency has
jurisdiction and authority for setting regulations and enforcement for state marine
• The California Department of State Parks and Recreation (DPR) has no marine
biologists on staff for management and evaluation.
• At the State Parks and Recreation Commission meeting in Fort Bragg on May 16th
this year, the State Parks and Recreation Commission declined to offer DPR any
guidance on its MLPA recommendations and showed no inclination to offer the
public an opportunity to have a forum to discuss the role of State Parks in the
MLPA process. Since the state marine parks designation gives the Commission
some authority over the approval process, we feel this is too cumbersome for the
promulgation of fishing regulations. The same goals, objectives and regulations
can be achieved by using the state marine conservation area designation without
the bureaucratic confusion.
• State Marine Park regulations are arbitrary. In the example of the commercial sea
urchin fishery, which removes a key competitor for abalone, the marine parks
could develop less biodiversity, not more. Areas closed to sea urchin harvest often
become "urchin barrens" where legal size abalone are crowded out. Urchins also
reduce the kelp canopy, thus reducing the habitat available for juvenile rockfish in
• We concur with the CEQA scoping comments submitted by the California Sea
Urchin Commission: A comparison of areas closed to the harvest of sea urchins
and areas where sea urchins are harvested in several northern California
locations has already been studied. Natural diversity and abundance in many
other kelp dependent species has been shown to increase with the harvest of sea
urchins. "Red sea urchin removal apparently led to increased red abalone
abundance even at a site that was heavily fished by recreational abalone fishers.
Meanwhile at a nearby reserve site where kelp populations are lower, red
abalones have declined in abundance as red sea urchins increased." (Karpov, et
• This area should be changed to a conservation area that allowed for commercial
sea urchin harvest, while reserving this important area for recreational fishing.
The IPA, as presently designed, will cause an effort shift of 26,000 abalone,
representing 20% of the total landings in the north central coast study region.
Adopting the changes we propose will reduce the effort shift to less than 6,000
abalone, or less than 5% of the fishery. Our proposal removes only those MPAs
that do not meet science and feasibility guidelines, and moves one boundary line
1.4 miles north.
We can live with many aspects of the IPA and the five requested changes we are
submitting will in no way reduce the overall protections for the network of MPAs. We
appreciate your thoughtful consideration of these recommendations, and look forward to
having the opportunity to discuss the integration of abalone management and marine
protected area regulations at future Commission meetings.
Jim Martin, West Coast
The Recreational Fishing
Bill Gaines, Executive
California Outdoor Heritage
Mike Williamson, President
North Coast Fishing
Mark Warner, President
American Fishing Foundation
Ken Jones, President
United Pier and Shore
President, Sonoma County
President, CENCAL divers
Member, Abalone Advisory
Roger Thomas, President
Golden Gate Fishermen's
Brian Ishida, President
NorCal Dive Club
Vern Goehring, Executive
California Sea Urchin
Joe Janisch, President
Craig Bell, Chairman
Mendocino County Fish &
Game Advisory Commission
Larry Knowles, Owner
Rising Tide Sea Vegetables
Point Arena Fishermen
Carol Rose, President
Underwater Society of
Recreational Fishing Alliance