Lockout Has Anglers Reeling - Fishing restrictions to expand around Channel Islands, CA

January 2003 Issue of Boat U.S., Volume VIII

By Ryck Lydecker


To submit a Letter to the Editor: LettersToEditor@boatus.com

After waiting with bated breath for over a year for a decision on new fishing
restrictions around the Channel Islands, California anglers got "knocked
flat" when the state fish and game commission voted to close 175 square miles
of ocean to all fishing, effective as of Jan. 1.

If regulators follow suit next year in adjacent federal waters, the area
closed to fishing could swell to over 425 square miles.

In a 2-1 vote last Oct. 23, the commission approved a checkerboard of 11
closed areas that, according to Tom Raftican, president of United Anglers of
Southern California, locks up more than 25% of the best fishing waters around
the five islands off Santa Barbara.

Even catch- and- release fishing is prohibited in these areas and Raftican
points to "extreme environmentalists" with a no-compromise agenda for the
drive to close more coastal waters in California and elsewhere.

"Fishermen in other states had better take notice because they are next,"
Raftican warns. "We're just the first domino to fall."

Indeed similar management plans that include total closures, to preserve fish
stocks and protect habitat, are in the talking stages in Oregon,
Massachusetts and Florida.

But in the Channel Islands case, two years of non-stop talking -- with all
sides represented in a formal consensus-building process -- fell apart at the
11th hour, throwing the decision back to the commission.

"We were at the table for two years as part of an 18 member Marine Reserve
Working Group," Raftican says. "Our job was to reach consensus on management
measures, including closures, that would help stocks of overfished species to

In California the designation Marine Reserve means that all types of fishing
are banned. Raftican's group has supported reserves in some cases within the
state waters where closures can be supported by scientific evidence, he says.

And by the end of the Channel Islands process, anglers had agreed to a plan
setting aside what they thought was a reasonable portion of the state and
federal waters that compromise the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary.

"It was tough but we believed we had arrived at an agreement all sides could
live with," Raftican says. "Anglers had agreed to closing just over 17% of
sanctuary waters but on the last morning of the working group process, things
fell apart.

"One of the environmental representatives showed up with a whole new map that
called for closing over 30% of the area," Raftican continues. "He wouldn't
budge and that killed any hope of reaching consensus."

As a result of that maneuver, in May 2001, the Marine Reserve Working Group
disbanded and the California Fish and Game Commission had to settle the
matter. In the intervening 15 months the commission's staff developed several
alternative plans which it put out for public comment.

An economic impact study commissioned by the American Sportfishing
Association determined that the closures could cost as much as $50 million
annually in lost angler spending. Nonetheless, the "preferred alternative"
which closes some 25% of sanctuary waters, is what passed and that includes
some of the best fishing areas off southern California, Raftican maintains.

Even more troubling than the decision, he says, is that the five-member Fish
and Wildlife Commission voted with only three members present. The two
missing commissioners -- one called away on business and the other out sick
-- are appointed as sportfishing representatives and that only added to
angler frustration.

"The most important vote of the last decade and they couldn't make it,"
Raftican observes. "Yet 300 anglers could take time off work to attend the

The association bused in fishermen-all wearing red tee shirts--for the Santa
Barbara meeting, much as it had done earlier in the year to demonstrate
opposition to wide spread closures then being proposed for inshore state
waters all along the coast (see "Anglers Debone No-Take Zone," BoatU.S.
Magazine, July 2002).

But in that case, anglers and other "stakeholders" felt they had been left
out of discussions from the beginning and the Commission agreed to start
fresh with a whole new collaborative process that now includes all sides.

In the Channel Islands decisions, however, it appears the only option open to
the anglers is legal action, perhaps a lawsuit contesting the voting
procedure. At press time, Raftican said his organization had not yet decided
on a course of action.

The increasingly contentious issue of marine protected areas like
California's will be the subject of a national meeting next month. RecFishII,
the second marine recreational fishing symposium to be sponsored by the
National Marine Fisheries Service, will provide a forum for anglers,
scientists and fishery managers to discuss Marine Protected Areas as tools in
fishery management.

The symposium will be held Feb. 23-26 in St. Petersburg Beach, Florida. For
more information, contact eangler@baotus.com or write: RecFish II, National
Marine Fisheries Service, SSMC3, Room 14752, 1315 East-West Highway, Silver
Spring, MD 20910



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