While both are deeply invested in the future of the state's coastal waters, fishermen and ocean scientists haven't always agreed on the need for or proper location of marine protected areas (MPAs) in California. Yet both agree on the need for MPA monitoring. The California Collaborative Fisheries Research Program has been encouraging that agreement, by combining the expertise of scientists with the experience and skills of the local fishing community to monitor the protected areas.
California's Central Coast, spanning from Pigeon Point in San Mateo County southward to Point Conception in Santa Barbara County, was the first region to establish a network of 29 MPAs under the Marine Life Protection Act. Once the MPAs are in the water, the monitoring effort begins. The first step is to establish a baseline of ocean conditions and human activities (such as fishing) at the time of implementation against which future changes can be measured.
As part of this baseline monitoring, scientists, charter boat skippers and more than 600 volunteer recreational anglers have worked together since 2007, using standardized methods to catch, tag and release tens of thousands of fish. These efforts have provided baseline data on species compositions, lengths, and abundances for four regional MPAs and associated reference sites.
The standardized sampling and fish tagging can add to what is known about local fish populations, growth rates, movements and home range sizes of key species. In addition to informing MPA management, such information can feed into federal and state fisheries management.
By involving fishermen and scientists from the start, the design of the monitoring effort is broadly accepted, the data collected has credibility, and - most critically - it brings the local community together to collectively oversee their local MPAs. In the place of conflict, there is collaboration.
Teams often head out on the cool water before dawn. Skippers position the boat and call out, "Ready to fish!", anglers scramble to their stations and drop their lines, and scientists measure and tag fishes as they are brought on board, keeping track of time so every fish is returned quickly and safely to the water. At the end of a long day, everyone is satisfied that their efforts have given something back to the resource we all depend on. Also, many anglers have learned more about the biology of nearshore fishes and how MPAs are expected to work.
Recreational fisherman Melvin de la Motte is among those collecting data for the program. He doesn't believe that the MPAs are helpful, but even so, agrees on the critical importance of having reliable data to evaluate them. In a recent California News Service story on the project, he described why he participates in monitoring:
"Because we still believe there is no beneficial effect of the marine reserves, and so we have to have the science. So, we cooperate in making sure the monitoring goes forward because it's left to be proven."
This collaboration is just one element of the state's MPA monitoring program. MPA Monitoring Enterprise, a program of the California Ocean Science Trust, oversees the broad network of partner organizations engaged in the collection of data inside and outside MPAs. These collaborators include a number of academic research institutions and citizen science organizations.
All monitoring data and results gathered during this effort are publicly available on the OceanSpaces.org, an online community that fosters new knowledge of ocean health. Visit the site to view maps, videos and more information about California's statewide network of MPAs. In collaboration with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and California Fish and Game Commission, we are convening a public symposium in late February to share the results of the baseline monitoring and look ahead to inform adaptive management of the Central Coast MPAs.
After the symposium, we will shift gears into ongoing monitoring, through which we "take the pulse" of marine ecosystems and ocean-based human activities to see how they are changing over time and how MPAs are affecting them. Ongoing monitoring will provide further opportunities for collaborations between fishermen, scientists and others interested in participating in the management of our shared ocean resources. Because if we want to have productive ecosystems that can be utilized as a food source, as a source of recreation, and that exist for the inherent value of the ecosystem, we need to work together.
This post first appeared January 17, 2013 in The California Majority Report.