OC Fishermen Are Out to Sea

Thanks to overregulation in the name of conservation, these hard-working men face extinction

Six months after the reserves were implemented, fishermen still struggle to figure out where they can and can't go fishing, even with the assistance of GPS technology. "I live on my electronics and can't tell you where the boundaries are," says Healy. "It's not a latitude-longitude line—it's a plotted line. On land, if they don't want you to go someplace, they mark it with a sign or paint a line."

MPA violations can come with hefty fines and a revocation of fishing privileges. Last month, a diver was sentenced to seven days in jail and three years of probation, plus ordered to pay fines of more than $20,000 after being caught with 47 spiny lobsters in a Laguna Beach State Marine Reserve in January. But daily enforcement of MPA regulations remains a challenge: In Orange County, only one warden monitors the entirety of the coast, from Bolsa Chica to San Clemente.

Citizen volunteers are hoping to fill the vacancy. Environmentalist groups have launched a coalition of programs collectively called MPA Watch, in which individuals monitor human activity along the coastline, on beaches, in tide pools and in the ocean to assess how the protections may influence behavior. Costa Mesa-based Orange County Coastkeeper, one of the groups involved, sends out interns and volunteers with binoculars and clipboards to track everything from the number of boats in the water to the number of people collecting seashells on the beach. Potential violations are reported to wardens and marine management to help them target hot spots. The city of Laguna Beach has gone a step further, hiring a Marine Protection Officer who works with the Department of Fish and Game to patrol the reserve.

Ivar Southern, a lobster fisherman in Laguna Beach, grabbing what he can
Kenneth M. Ruggiano
Ivar Southern, a lobster fisherman in Laguna Beach, grabbing what he can
Don Brockman, owner of Davey’s Locker in Newport Beach
Kenneth M. Ruggiano
Don Brockman, owner of Davey’s Locker in Newport Beach

Some fishermen have balked at such programs, saying the environmentalist groups behind them lack law-enforcement authority. Volunteers have gone so far as to approach fishermen, Greenpeace-style, out in the open sea, to lecture them on where they can and can't fish; unsurprisingly, heated confrontations have ensued, although none have escalated into violence.

Ray Hiemstra, associate director of Orange County Coastkeeper, says that's not what his group does. "We don't have any authority and shouldn't be interfering with what people do," he says. "Volunteers are trained to not confront people. A warden can write a ticket. A marine-enforcement officer can write a city citation. We collect data in a scientific way."

* * *

For the fishing businesses that have held on through the maelstrom, things look different these days.

"If you would have asked me a year ago if we'd have a year-round whale-watching boat, I'd call you a nut case," says Don Brockman, owner of Davey's Locker on the Balboa Peninsula. "But it's the only thing that's kept the doors open in the past few years. Four hundred to 500 people a day come to watch those things."

Davey's Locker and Newport Landing Sportfishing are the last remaining landings in Newport Beach, and due to the economy, years of cold water and now the MPA-forced closures (both lost about 25 percent to 30 percent of their fishing grounds), fishing makes up only a portion of their ocean activities. The businesses now focus more on eco-tourism attractions—anyone looking for something fun and different to do with family or friends. Along with whale-watching tours, Newport Landing offers burials at sea and runs cruises during the annual Newport Beach Christmas Boat Parade, the city's beloved waterfront spectacle of holiday lights.

"We're doing whatever we have to do to keep the boats busy," says Thompson of Newport Landing. "The way our business has gone, we are actually exposing more people now to the ocean than we were 10 years ago. That's not what the environmentalists want. They want less people out in the water. What's going on is backfiring on them."

With their fishing activities, the closures have limited the companies as to where they can send their vessels. "In the fishing business, we're used to being able to move around," Thompson says. "We're chasing conditions all the time—like if the water temperature changes in certain areas or the clarity changes in certain areas or the current changes in certain areas. We're hunter-gatherers."

At Davey's Locker, sportfishing was once a seven-days-a-week offering, but now it's only offered on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Brockman says the fishing reserves have been "like putting 10 pounds on our butt." If the weather is bad to the north toward Huntington Flats, where the boats usually head, there's no other option. "I wish [the closures] were a rotating field," he says. "Like, 'Okay, let's close this area for five years and let the fish spawn unmolested, and then move to another area. As a fisherman, that'd make more sense. The way they are now, they're like national parks. They're not changing. The fish are there to look at and not catch."

Some Orange County fishermen have ducked out of the conflict zone altogether. Josh Fisher, a commercial lobster fisherman, had been fishing out of Dana Point for most of his career until two years ago, when it appeared massive MPA regulations were inevitable. He relocated his boat to Redondo Beach. "I saw the writing on the wall," he says. "I made a move to acclimate myself to a new area and not be ostracized later for being a new guy coming in after the closures."

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24 comments
bantheban
bantheban

This is a typical BIG Government ''law'' that is not supported by the public. Now it is a crime to make a cast in front of my house. I have fished from shore for years in front of my house off West Street. The fishing is excellent, there was no one else fishing, and I released 100% of the fish I caught! Now I am banned from fishing in my own backyard?  I now have to drive to 1000 stairs, try to find parking, and I can't take my dog! Well, guess what? I am personally retaliating! Look at the closed beaches in the next few weeks... What I am going to do, will not be ignored! I guarantee it.  I am selling my house due to the fishing ban. So, so long Laguna Beach!  But I will leave a permanent reminder of the fact that the American people DO have a say!You will never forget me when you see what I am going to do to retaliate against these left winged socialists... Never!

Bob
Bob

This ban will allow the area to develop a vibrant marine ecosystem that can be enjoyed by scuba divers and snorkelers. That in turn will bring more tourism and economic activity to the area. Decisions shouldn't be made based on the interests of small groups of people, but rather based on the interests of the community as a whole. I think this is something that will definitely benefit the larger community.

jhoblick
jhoblick

Scuba divers and snorkelers are a smaller group than recreational and commercial fisherman. In fact, most often, we are one and the same. The closure of this PUBLIC resource to those of us who have always treated it with respect will not promote economic activity in the area. I have been going to Laguna to dive and fish since childhood and am a former resident. I will continue to dive and fish elsewhere and refuse to spend a penny in the city of Laguna Beach. I know many folks who feel the same. Responsible use of our public land is our right. Best of luck with your little eco preserve.

Don Sack
Don Sack

Its OK for you. MPAs mean job security for you and your world. They closed off MOST of the best fishing grounds. What do you think that will do to coastal communities and our children. Oh of course your kids will attend college and study and get to fish and dive in MPAs.

Don Sack
Don Sack

California was one of the first to implement experimental MPAs on a large scale. Most other regions who have MPAs have only a few.

Don Sack
Don Sack

Again trawlers get 83% of the allocated fish stocks - the rest is split up between small sustainable commercial hook and liners and recreation fishermen. Trawlers size their fish for their markets. The bigger the better. Undersized dead fish are either discarded or made into a ground paste. Trawlers target large fish.

Don Sack
Don Sack

Trawlers get 83% of the allocated fish stocks - the rest is split up between small sustainable commercial hook and liners and recreation fishermen. Disgusting

Don Sack
Don Sack

How long will it take for results from the Channel Islands? If you stop people from fishing in the MPAs and selectively taking the larger "sport trophies" then obviously there will be more of them around. Isn't that just logical.

Don Sack
Don Sack

Closing down one of the most sustainable fisheries (hook and line) in the whole world means that unsustainable sources of fish are the only choices in the stores. Fin fish aquaculture has taken over and is destroying fish habitat world wide and is spreading disease to wild stocks. Corporate owned Industrialized super trawlers, with lots of bycatch, now get increases of quota because local sustainable fisheries are struggling to catch theirs because of MPAs. MPAs don't affect trawlers as they were placed only in hook and line areas of the ocean. Nets are not selective and never will be. I know as I worked on a trawler and was disgusted. Get educated as to what replaces our small hook and line sustainable fisheries. Please....

Don Sack
Don Sack

I come from a third generation crab and salmon hook and line fishing family and have 45 years of experience on the water. MPAs lock up the best fishing grounds and force fishermen out of business. MPAs are designed to encompass the habitat that fish require to survive. Outside of these zones there is little habitat so fish do not frequent there - only seasonal migratory fish may pass through. National spacial planning is being promoted right now allowing for industrial uses of the ocean and when fishermen are regulated off the water they will be replaced by industrial aquaculture, oil and mineral extraction, large expanses of energy farms and other destructive industries. The ocean is a living breathing organism and the number of fishermen has long been the indicator of a healthy ocean. Now if an oil spill occurs the oil industry won't have to pay damages to the fishermen, a savings of many many dollars and when energy farms are built (in rocky fish friendly areas) and the electrical currents chase all the fish away the fishermen will not be on the water to make a report. When ocean aquaculture is introduced pollution and many viruses will kill off what is left of the wild stocks. Remember MPAs will not protect the fish from pollution and oil although the environmentalists tout them as guaranteeing their future.

David Gurney
David Gurney

Funny, that author left out - the president of the Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA) - the west's largest and most powerful oil-industry lobbying firm - was Chairperson for the South Coast MLPA (in Orange County). Uh, isn't there slight conflict of interest here? The oil industry shares an interest in the ocean, along with the fish, and the fisherman. This chair of the MLPA, when she wasn't creating no-fishing zones as a "volunteer" for the "Initiative, has been lobbying HARD for increased oil/gas drilling throughout the California Coast. But little things like MAJOR conflict of interest, seemed to bother nobody. All it will take is another Gulf-like oil blowout, and the MPAs will be a moot point. Many people justifiably think that the oil industry prefers to remove fishing interests, because healthy fisheries are a liability and impediment to offshore drilling Gulf blowout can't happen here? Already has. Santa Barbara, 1969. Also no mention of San Onofre, with many hundreds of metric tons of highly radioactive spent fuel rods sitting in 40-ft deep pools, just yards from the ocean. If a bad earthquake comes, it's not only the So-Cal fish that will be in trouble. The new "marine protected area" closure off Diablo Canyon at Point Bushon is about to be erased - after five years of no-fishing - by PG&E, which plans to conduct seismic testing this September - to look for newly discovered earthquake faults right offshore from the plant. These powerful underwater sonic blasts will "harm" whales, dolphins, seals, otters, fish, and all life in the Point Bushon MPA. Actually, more like kill them. And again calls to address threats to the ocean other than fishing in the privatized MLPA process were purposely ignored. The MLPAI did nothing to recognize or regulate obvious threats to marine life because the people running the privatized public process had conflicts of interest. Someone needs to do a little more digging, to expose just how corrupt the privatized MLPA "Initiative" really was, despite the good intentions of many.

Joe Hol
Joe Hol

I guess shit happens!!

Keiran3
Keiran3

Great article, there is not enough unbiased science to support this. I agree we need to protect our ocean, but fishing is not the root source of the unhealthy ocean conditions. I also agree with what of the interviewees mentioned about rotating closures, that makes a large amount of sense to me and seems liek it would have been a fair compromise.

Reality Check
Reality Check

We all know that fisherman alone are not the ones to blame. The vast issues affecting our ocean extends beyond just one group or action. We must all work together because we all LOVE the ocean! Read this http://www.thedailybeast.com/newsweek/2012/05/13/the-ocean-of-life-and-the-sorrow-beneath-the-sea.html to learn more about how there are much more serious issues going on around the world. If you really don't like what is going on, commenting for an alt-weekly publication isn't going to change anything. How about you try contacting your elected officials and the decision makers that can actually do something. The regulations are in place, the proponents have already won.... bitching and moaning isn't going to change a thing.

Don Sack
Don Sack

I did contact my elected officials - Many times and so did a lot of other people. They own wineries or have connections with the oil or trawling industries. They do not pass laws that limit their wealth but pass laws to destroy anyone who could hurt their selected industries. They pick the winners and losers to get rich and that is why the small independent gets the short end of the stick every time. No representation. Isn't that what the Occupy Fisheries FB page is all about?

Bill T.
Bill T.

The eastern Sierra fisheries would be non-existent without state sponsored stocking.

Guest
Guest

Because they were not native to begin with. Look it up.

Ryan Sweeney
Ryan Sweeney

These are dark days in california's history. Certain special interest groups have ousted those who have generations of passion and love for the sea... only to open the doors to "eco-tourism" which will be full of uneducated masses of foreigners only hoping to catch a glimpse of what they don't understand. They'll have no idea of the impact they'll have traipsing around. At least the fisherman understand how the sea works and cherish the desire to protect it in most cases. Everything about this stinks... especially the special interest money that paid for bad science and our politicians. Yep, Schwarzenegger gets to leave office with the fallacy of a "do gooder" on his resume. Just wait until local economies collapse, Harbors previously 70% full of fishing boats go empty and are replaced with millions of ignorant tourists. And of course, lets remember the local markets and grocery stores that now will fill their shelves with foreign fish who are caught in MUCH less protected waters. Way to go enviro's... you've increased the global problem of over fishing but "cleaned up" your backyard. Your ignorance won't get any pats on the back from here.

~M~
~M~

Incredible...love reading the delusional and misguided responses about the truth. Fishermen and women, even my 12 year old, all agree that our fisheries could use some assistance. Here's a thought...how about lowering slot limits, limiting take? We are all for that, and throughout this MLPA fiasco, it was ignored. Instead, just like some of the enviro responses, supposed scientific data (read: made up nonsense) was the norm. And why do we think it needs assistance? Because we want to see it abundant, and we want the ocean to provide its bounties for us, instead of buying plastic wrapped cruelly captured fish. There are others ways to ensure the continued success of conservation, yet others choose to ignore the ways to go about this. Discussions of artificial reefs are ignored, yet would that not be more beneficial to the fisheries than closing an entire stretch of coastal access? Look at what Hubbs has done with the California White Seabass population. Ten years ago, a 50 pounder was unheard of locally. Now it is not uncommon to hear about fish that size being caught. Want a healthy fish population? Why is it that the take on Seriola Lalandi is 10 per day? Lower it...simple. A portion of the cost of a fishing license goes towards replenishment and enforcement, and you want to take more? How about spending some of that money meant to do everything possible to close down prime fishing locations and use it in a more positive way, such as adding DFG personnel to stop poaching, creating artificial reefs, and deal with the real issue...pollution! I find it ironic that Laguna Beach and all of its Lagunatics were all for closing "their" entire stretch of coastline in the name of conservation because of the actions of fishermen, and did they not have a massive sewer failure not too long ago that dumped thousands and thousands of gallons of sewage into the ocean? Let's now venture South, to La Jolla...close parts of La Jolla because of 'supposed' overfishing, yet allow the Children's Pool area, er, I mean Sealcrap Pool, to become heavily populated with seals and sea lions. I suppose now some of you enviro people are going to tell me that the seals and sea lions don't have anything to do with the fish population and in no way are they threatening the balance... They have an average life span of 20–30 years. A male California sea lion weighs on an average about 300 kg (660 lb) and is about 8 ft (2.4 m) long, while the female sea lion weighs 100 kg (220 lb) and is 6 ft (1.8 m) long. The largest sea lion is the Steller's sea lion which can weigh 1,000 kg (2,200 lb) and grow to a length of 10 ft (3.0 m). Sea lions consume large quantities of food at a time and are known to eat about 5–8% of their body weight (about 15–35 lb (6.8–16 kg)) at a single feeding. No, you don't see anything wrong with this picture, do you? This is too easy...every feeble attempt you come up with has more holes than Swiss cheese... Anyone, do me a favor...answer this. How much $ was spent lining the pockets of those who would agree with you?

Gregbarnicoat
Gregbarnicoat

I love how all the folks in favor of the new MLPAi say that we need to save the fish from some catastrophy. They claim that the fish stocks are decimated and need to be saved for future generations to enjoy. The truth of the matter, coming from the only independent scientific research (the DFG), is that there are no species on our coast that are on the decline at this time. In fact, of any protected species along our coast, all are on the mend from the past days of gill netting and wreckless trawling. Then of course they go on to say that even if there are no fish endangered, they still need to create these vast fish farms that will never be farmed. They claim that these baby factories will populate the vast expanse of the ocean. And that they will provide incredible amounts of huge fish on their borders for fishermen to catch. What they fail to grasp is the fact that, other than a couple months of the year, the vast expanse of our south coast waters are barren desert like wasteland. No matter how many fish eggs are sent out to these desert areas, fish will not colonize the areas. The small amount of kelp/structure remaining outside the MPAs includes all sewage outfalls, contaminated runoffs, toxic substrates and everything else bad for fish and/or people. The Marine Reserves were designed to a size that would keep the vast majority of larger fish from ever reaching their boundaries (look it up, it was a guiding factor for the "Science Advisory Team"). Besides the fact that only a very small band of either edge of most MPAs will ever be fished. I will agree that for picture taking divers, and those who think nobody should be allowed to eat meat these MPAs are a boon, but for the rest of us they are only lost jobs, subsistence and means of bonding with our kids.

Fishmanbh1
Fishmanbh1

fish stocks have been improving year after year since the ban on inshore gill nets back in the 80's. regulations prior to the implementation of the MPA were also working(proven by the fact that fish stocks are recovering still). there is no need for the MPA. fish stocks have yet to realize their full potential since the ban on inshore gill nets. a lot of people are uninformed about the state of our fisheries. dont let the environmental extremists fool you. the sky is not falling.

guest
guest

Catherine Reheis-Boyd. How can you write an article on MPA's and not mention her? She's at the heart of the hypocrisy, the top west coast oil lobbyist who carved up our coast

damon tordini
damon tordini

Nice, why bother attempting to provide an objective report when you can pronounce the new law as over-regulation right in the headline? After all, anecdotal reports from fishermen complaining about their bottom line are much more reliable than, say, scientific studies on fish populations.

 
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