http://www.mercurynews.com/news/ci_19743552 inShare 4 Protecting Calif. marine sanctuaries a tough job By JASON DEAREN Associated Press Posted: 01/14/2012 01:23:25 PM PST Updated: 01/14/2012 02:37:39 PM PST MONTARA STATE MARINE RESERVE, Calif.Warden Andy Roberts saw the yellow and red buoy bouncing in the dark blue waters of the Montara State Marine Reserve off the California coast, and pointed the bow of his 54-foot catamaran at it. "That's the string we've been looking for," said Roberts, a lieutenant with the California Department of Fish and Game warden. He moved the vessel Marlin closer to the buoy, and another warden on deck snagged the rope with a long pole. The trap was hauled in by a hydraulic winch. Eight reddish-orange Dungeness crabs skittered in the circular, cage-like pot before being photographed and then thrown back. The wardens seized the trap and took note of the tag attached to the pot that named the fisherman to whom it belonged. The wardens would call the fisherman, and cite him for illegally fishing in a Marine Protected Area. California's 1,100-mile coastline has 50 Marine Protected Areas that cover about 354 square miles of oceanor about 15 percent of the coast covering diverse sea environments from southern sloughs to waters near the Farallon Islands. Yet the California Department of Fish and Game has fewer wardens per capita than any other coastal state, creating a challenge for California in how best to police the vast areas. And with the addition of the Southern California's protection zones on Jan. 1 and more slated to be created in San Francisco Bay and the far northern coast soon, the workload is only going to Advertisement increase. Created by the Marine Life Protection Act of 1999, the MPAs restrict or ban fishing in a patchwork of areas with the goal of helping California's marine ecosystem rebound from years of damage from fishing and other damage. While concern over the state's ability to patrol this vast area led to changes during the planning process, the department is currently not well staffed enough with wardens to do a complete job. About 15 of the department's 75 positions in marine enforcement are currently vacant, and Roberts' Marlin is the only large fish and game vessel patrolling the MPAs from the central coast to the Oregon border. The agency has about 10 other small vessels with limited range that assist the Marlin in central and northern California, and the U.S. Coast Guard and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration also provide assistance. Yet, wardens say crab poachers caught off the state's central and northern coasts are emboldened by this lack of law enforcement presence. Ian Bearry, a warden and member of the Marlin crew, said poachers recently caught at Drake's Bay, an MPA in the Point Reyes National Seashore, did not flinch when the wardens' boat came near. "The fishermen said they had heard that fish and game wasn't enforcing the marine protected areas," said Bearry. "They said it was worth the extra crab to take the risk of getting caught." With crab fetching $3 a pound for fisherman who can haul in thousands of pounds a day, the risk of getting caught is part of the financial equation when deciding whether to drop pots in marine sanctuaries, especially when the reserve is teeming with crab late in the season when other legal areas have been fished out. Roberts said they had caught poachers in MPAs near Sonoma County, out near the Farallon Islands and other areas. Even if the poachers are caught, the crimes are misdemeanors and fines vary wildly because they are up to the discretion of county judges. The fines can be as much as $1,000 per pot, but the amount fluctuates wildly. "There's a statewide bail schedule that goes out, but each judge is king. I've seen fines range from $10 to a $4,000 fine. There's no consistency," said fish and game Capt. Don Kelly. On Thursday, Roberts and his crew boarded a crab boat floating about 50 feet outside the Montara reserve. The boat's captain said interaction with wardens was extremely rare. "I've been fishing all my life and have never been boarded," said an agitated Larry Roggasch from the deck of the weathered Kay Bee out of Fort Bragg. "It pisses me off." Roberts and his crew had spotted the Kay Bee just outside the reserve after pulling up the illegal pots, and went to check to see if they were poaching. While the wardens did not find evidence that Roggasch fished in the sanctuarythe illegal pots were not hisBearry inspected his catch. "I've got two shorts," yelled warden Ian Bearry from Kay Bee's deck, describing crabs under the legal size limit. "Cut paper and let's get out of here," Roberts yelled back, telling the younger warden to ticket the crabbers. The illegal pots found in the Montara reserve displayed a strategy often being employed by crab poachers, Lt. Roberts said. "They set the traps in the edge reserve then the current takes the buoy outside the zone," said Roberts, noting that poachers who understand the currents drop the pots near the edge of the reservewhich is marked by global positioning satelliteand allow the buoys to drift outside of it. "They let it out here knowing the current runs the same way this type of year," said Roberts. "But it's not where the buoys is, it's where your gear is. They don't get it." While the MPAs on the central coast have been in effect since 2007 and 2010, on Jan. 1 the state created a new string of protection zones in southern California, stretching from the Mexican border to Santa Barbara. To help address patrolling concerns, the environmental community, coastal city governments and others are coming up with creative ways to help. Groups like Santa Barbara Channelkeeper and Heal the Bay are organizing "citizen monitors" who use binoculars from shore to watch out for violations in MPAs that are close to shore. The citizen monitors report any potential violators and collect data that can be shared with wardens to help them target hot spots. The city of Laguna Beach in Southern California has gone a step further, and created a Marine Protection Officer who works collaboratively with DFG to patrol the MPA there. "The good news is that there's a growing movement of citizen coastal guardians and ocean ambassadors who are keeping an eye on the water, and working cooperatively with the wardens to make sure we maximize compliance," said Karen Garrison, co-director of the Natural Resources Defense Council's oceans program.