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robertogreco : montereybay   1

The Fisherman’s Dilemma - The California Sunday Magazine
"Off the coast of California, a radical experiment has closed hundreds of miles of ocean to fishing. Will it lead to better catches for years to come?"



"Maricich’s decision to throw in his lot with fish counters rather than catchers is in part economic, but it also stems from one truth that in a backdoor kind of way unites fishermen and conservationists: After all the closures and commissions, all the surveys and reappraisals, the ocean is still deeply mysterious. In the 1970s and 1980s, a profound knowledge deficit led to a policy of killing fish first and asking questions later. In the 2000s, the corrective — to close fishing grounds first and ask questions later — has been equally burdened by the problem of the vastness of the ocean.

Which was why the research Tim Maricich has been doing with the Nature Conservancy over the past three years is so important. It suggests that the regulatory overhaul and the federal and state closures are working. “We’re pretty consistently finding species like the yelloweye rockfish, which are deemed overfished,” the Nature Conservancy’s Mary Gleason told me. “That suggests that the formal stock assessments are probably underestimating their abundance and that the Rockfish Conservation Areas are probably contributing to their rebuilding. We’re seeing big schools of fish — widow rockfish, chilipepper rockfish. It’s gotten the fishermen pretty excited. They’re hoping some of this data might support opening up some of the closed areas.”"



"A decade later, the first comprehensive results are starting to emerge from scuba surveys. Jenn Caselle, a research biologist also from the University of California at Santa Barbara, has logged thousands of dive hours in the same cold water and kelp I experienced in Monterey. She’s found a noticeable change there, particularly around Anacapa Island, where I was now fishing. “The important message from the Channel Islands over ten years,” she says, “is that the fish inside the reserves are increasing. But here’s the key point. The populations of many fished species outside the reserves are also increasing — not as fast, but they’re increasing. This is really important because it was feared that the redistribution of fishing effort could cause scorched earth outside the reserves. That’s not happening.”"



"Evidence like Caselle’s isn’t good enough for some critics. Ray Hilborn, a professor of aquatic and fisheries science at the University of Washington who’s frequently cited by fishermen as a counterweight to the “enviros,” claims there’s no evidence that the sanctuaries are having a comprehensive effect. Hilborn had taken part in the establishment of California marine reserves and found the science guidelines lacking in academic rigor. “If they had done it correctly,” he says, “there would have been adequate control groups, like with any experiment. They would have set up three reserves and three non-reserves and then compared the fish in each after five and then ten years.”

But Caselle argues that a control for an experiment the size of the Channel Islands network is an impossibility. “The hypothesis is that the total effect of a network is greater than the sum of its parts,” she says. “But that is very difficult to measure. That would require having another region that is similar in all ways to Southern California but without marine protected areas. Essentially, there are no controls for entire networks.” In other words, the entire California approach to linking its fragmented coast is a leap of faith. A leap of faith where the default is not fishing instead of fishing."



"Were all these fish the result of the reserve? Or was it just a good day, as can happen, even when there aren’t that many fish around? It cannot yet be scientifically documented. Since many fish that are specifically protected by the reserves, like rockfish, can live many dozens of years, it may be a long time until we know the extent to which reserves populate other fishing grounds. By the end of the day, when the mate cleaned our catch and the dozen-odd fishermen aboard the Cobra all had a bag or two of fillets to show, there seemed to be a grudging feeling that the Channel Islands experiment had shifted something. As we motored back to port, a retired chef who’d been fishing next to me muttered, “I’ll tell you what, if it wasn’t for these closures, there wouldn’t be any fish at all.”

This thought stayed with me as I made my way to the airport. After boarding a plane I checked my phone before shutting it down for the trip back east. Atop the headlines was the news that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration had closed the entirety of the East Coast from Provincetown, Massachusetts, to the Canadian border to both commercial and sport cod fishing —  at least until May, in an effort to reverse declining fish populations in the Gulf of Maine. These were grounds I’d helped deplete over the past decade. After the latest stock assessment it was revealed that cod had dipped to an even lower level than had previously been assumed. The remaining stocks from Cape Cod to the Gulf of Maine, a population upon which colonial New England built its economy, were now reported to be between 3 and 4 percent of what would be required to have a sustainable fishery.

As I considered this news, I thought how the fishermen of California might have avoided a similar fate. The Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program recently surveyed the range of fisheries off California and moved many of the state’s groundfish species off its red “Avoid” list. In the decades ahead, commercial fishermen might enjoy rebuilt runs of rockfish and lingcod, surging runs of white sea bass and squid, all of them dashing through the regrown kelp in pursuit of sardines and anchovies that are also, apparently, on the rebound.

With the spring migrations coming on, the usual time I’d head to Gloucester for cod, I thought about what I might do instead. Was there something else I could fish? Maybe mackerel would swing through our waters as they once did in my youth but now only do on occasion. Maybe the blackfish would make an appearance if they hadn’t been hit too hard by lobstermen whose Long Island Sound lobster had grown scarce. Or maybe I’ll just hang it up and not fish at all this season."

[See also: http://aeon.co/magazine/science/a-radical-model-for-saving-californias-ocean-fisheries/ ]
paulgreenberg  coreyarnold  california  fisheries  fishing  commercialfishing  2015  oceans  pacificocean  montereybay  timmaricich  natureconservancy  conservation  rayhilborn  stevegaines  jenncaselle  aancapaisland  channelislands  environmentalism  economics 
march 2015 by robertogreco

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