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The Story Behind the MLPA | SoCal Scene MLPA

I’ve been following the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) dog-and-pony show since it first came to town. I attended meetings, perused reports and read countless internet arguments about its pros and cons. But it wasn’t until yesterday that I truly realized just how convoluted the whole thing actually is.

While reading an argument about it on BD’s message board, I came across a question that I can’t believe I’d never asked myself: “Which particular species of marine life are they actually trying to protect?”

This may sound like a simple question, but after all that I’ve seen over the last three or four years, I still don’t have an answer to it.

The scientists on the payrolls of Big Oil and the NRDC (National Resources Defense Council) claim that our fish stocks are in a state of complete collapse. The “Angry Housewives of Orange County” weep openly while waving pictures of dead pelicans and baby sea lions to try and keep the “evil-doers,” or in this case fishermen, out of their backyards.

In exchange for some extra credit, a souvenir t-shirt and a free box lunch, school kids turned into shills for the MLPA and were bussed to meetings to have an opportunity to share their vast knowledge on the state of California’s fisheries and smile for a great photo-op.

The omnipotent Packard Foundation proclaimed that fish should never be disturbed in their natural habitat. Instead they could be conveniently viewed at the Packard-funded Monterey Bay Aquarium, where the general public can get an up-close-and-personal look at fish in a replica of their natural environment for only $32.95 per person. Their only request is that you turn a blind eye to the massive amount of wastewater that the aquarium pumps directly into the natural environment of Monterey Bay as they feel that this is but a small price to pay for the opportunity to witness the wonders of the open ocean while munching on a $6 hot dog in air-conditioned comfort.

Fishermen are as guilty as anyone of having strong opinions about the MLPA and the consensus among them is that there’s nothing wrong with our fisheries and that we don’t need any more restrictions.

Opinions about the MLPA are like gaudy Christmas sweaters — most of us have one, but it’s never a good idea to wear it in public. You’re just going to make yourself look like an ass.

Dog-and-pony show aside, what is the actual intent of the MLPA? Well, the Surfrider Foundation’s website SoCal Scene MLPAstates, “The MLPA’s goals are to: ‘set aside’ areas of the ocean to increase fish populations, enhance marine habitat, and improve recreational and educational opportunities.”

That sounds really nice, doesn’t it? Heck, if I was coming out of the supermarket and someone asked me to sign up to support something like that I’d do it in a heartbeat. I mean, who wouldn’t want more fish, enhanced marine habitat and improved recreational opportunities? I always hated going to school, so I’d have a little trouble getting behind the “educational opportunities” part, but I figure it’s a small price to pay for getting all of that other cool stuff. The sad part is, that when you look at the actual interpretation of this enticingly written bit of legislature, there is no cool stuff — at least not for us fishermen.

The former leader of our great state, Arnold Schwarzenegger, who I’m ashamed to say I voted for, pushed the MLPA through in hopes of leaving behind a legacy of environmental protection and to draw attention away from the fact that he left our state in the economic toilet. But the implementation of his grandiose plan just isn’t feasible. The California coastline is one of the most densely populated parts of our country and no matter what we do, it will never return to the pristine beauty of 100 years ago. Too many toilets get flushed, too many cargo ships and oil tankers dock here and too many developers build homes down to the waterline.

Unless everyone that lives within 10 miles of the coast is willing to move to Riverside, stop buying foreign-made goods, walk rather than drive and dig an outhouse in their backyard, the waters along our coastline will never go back to being pristine. So what can the environmentalists do? Well, the obvious choice is to find a scapegoat to blame for the problem. And fishermen drew the short straw.

SoCal Scene MLPASince it was more practical than relocating half the population, they decided to protect the best marine habitat. It was as easy as gathering data on where people catch the most fish and closing those areas off, because the areas where people catch the most fish are obviously the areas that have the best marine habitat. The scientists used confusing terms like “deep rock, larval dispersion and persistent kelp” to explain why they chose certain areas, but even an idiot like me can figure out that they simply closed the areas that held the most fish.

Banning fishing in these areas may increase the fish populations within them, but how does it enhance the marine habitat and how does it offer improved recreational and educational opportunities? The bottom line is that it doesn’t. It just makes it appear as if the environmentalists are doing something productive.

The bottom line is that the entire MLPA process is a complete joke, but if left unchecked, it could very easily lead to a complete collapse of our fishing lifestyle. The pro-MLPA people have a lot of big money behind them and they weren’t satisfied with the amount of closures that they got, so you can bet they are going to be pushing for more in the near future.

The good news is that the MLPAs are currently being challenged in court and there has been some positive rulings that, with a little luck, might result in them being overturned.

If you’re a fisherman, now is NOT the time to sit back and wait to see how it all shakes out. It’s time to take action. Joining the fight is as simple as going to www.savecafishing.org and donating as little as $5 per month to help with the legal costs associated with this battle. I’d rather spend my money fighting this than paying $40 to look at fish behind glass.

In the meantime, the sand bass and sculpin continue to bite steadily for boats in the LA area. Fishermen in San Diego are starting to catch a few yellowtail off La Jolla and the sea bass are starting to show at Catalina and along the beach. I’ll get off my soapbox in the next So Cal Scene and take a look at the tackle you’ll want to get ready for the springtime sea bass and yellows.

Erik Landesfeind
Erik Landesfeind is BD's Southern California Editor and has over 30 years of experience saltwater fishing for a range of species in both California an...