The latest pair of public meetings in the proceedings of the Marine Life Protection Act's north central coast phase came and went on Oct. 2–3 in Santa Rosa, bringing the yearlong process one step closer to completion.
During the hours-long public comment period, fishermen and divers brought to the podium a formal request to the California Fish and Game Commission that five edits be made to the Integrated Preferred Alternative (IPA), one of several marine ecosystem management plans now under review by the commission and the likeliest to be written into law in 2009.
The changes proposed by divers and fishermen would exempt the recreational take of red abalone from several areas that the IPA would otherwise close to all forms of harvest. These locations include Fisk Mill Cove and other nearby access points in Salt Point State Park.
Jim Martin, West Coast regional director of the Recreational Fishing Alliance, told the Bohemian that he believes that the health of the red abalone fishery depends partially on the availability of multiple areas where divers can legally harvest the animals and, in doing so, disperse their collective pressure on the resource. By closing some spots, explains Martin, diver "effort shift" could highly impact the remaining legal diving spots, most notably at Fort Ross. Currently, 38,000 abalone come out of the waters here legally each year. Approximately 10,000 are harvested at the nearby locations that the IPA would close. Sources predict that Fort Ross, as a result of MLPA closures, will see an annual harvest total of approximately 50,000 abalone in future seasons—perhaps an unsustainable level.
"We're concerned that this could be setting up a domino effect and eventually require closing one area after another," Martin said.
But Ocean Conservancy's Samantha Murray, who supports the IPA, notes that management plan 2XA—the one supported by fishing interest groups but which has slipped to the wayside—would almost equally have impacted the legal harvest of abalone. Murray also points out that the MLPA is an adaptive process that allows for periodic reviews of ecosystem health. Should abalone numbers prove to suffer under the IPA, modifications to the plan can be made.
Jerry Kashiwada, associate marine biologist with the Department of Fish and Game, says that an inadvertent negative effect on the Fort Ross abalone population due to the IPA is "certainly a possibility," but that the available population data from the region is too scarce to make sure predictions.
But the Fish and Game Commission has not decided yet, and the next local MLPA public meeting will be held on Dec. 11 in Sacramento at the Resource Agency Auditorium (1416 Ninth St.). Visit www.fgc.ca.gov-meetings-2008-2008mtgs.asp for further information.