California’s fisheries provide healthy, sustainable food, but that could change under a dangerous new proposal being circulated, until recently, behind closed doors at the Legislature.
California’s fishing community – more than 40 harbors, chambers of commerce, seafood processors and recreational and commercial fishing groups – has united to oppose the proposal to declare virtually all offshore seamounts, ridges and banks off the coast as monuments under the Antiquities Act and permanently close these areas to commercial fishing.
After pursuing rumors, fisheries groups discovered the proposal, along with a sign-on letter encouraging legislative support. But no one bothered to seek any input from recreational and commercial fishermen. Even worse, there has been no scientific review or economic analysis, no public participation and no transparency.
The areas identified in the proposal are indeed special places, rich in marine life and valuable corals, sponges and structures. The seamounts and banks are also very important for fisheries.
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Tuna, swordfish, rockfish, spiny lobster, sea urchins, white sea bass and species including mackerels, bonito and market squid are all sustainably fished in Southern and Central California. And in Northern California, albacore tuna and other species provide opportunities to fishermen who, for the past few seasons, have been unable to rely on Chinook salmon and Dungeness crab.
These areas do deserve protection. But policies for protecting resources in federal waters exist under the federal Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act and other bipartisan laws, such as the Marine Mammal Protection Act and Endangered Species Act, which require science-based, peer-reviewed analysis conducted in a fully public and transparent process.
Indeed, most of the areas identified in the proposal are already protected under federal law through the Pacific Fishery Management Council’s designation of essential habitat. These designations were made with full scientific input and extensive public participation.
Fishing – commercial or recreational – does not pose any threat to these areas. In fact, California has the most strictly regulated fisheries in the world.
The proposal misrepresents the possible impacts of fishing and seriously underestimates the harsh economic impact if these areas were closed to commercial fishing.
The backers of this proposal want the president to take unilateral action using the Antiquities Act to declare these productive areas as monuments – a permanent, irreversible executive order that would prohibit commercial fishing forever.
In essence, that’s fishery management by fiat. This proposal was developed with no outreach to fishery scientists and managers, and only after fishermen discovered the plot did proponents come out of the closet.
The proposal goes against the bipartisan legacy of the nation’s fishery management laws and policies, whose hallmark is transparency and which have a long track record of working successfully to protect marine resources.
We believe legislative leaders should oppose it, as should President Barack Obama. In short, the Antiquities Act is not the place to manage fisheries.
D.B. Pleschner is executive director of the California Wetfish Producers Association. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.