Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) occur along the coast of California and many other coastal areas of the nation. The sizes, purposes, and regulations on use of these areas vary greatly, as do the terms to describe them. Some, for example, have few restrictions, while others may be complete “no-take” areas. MPAs have garnered much attention recently among researchers and marine advocacy groups as a tool for fishery management, protecting marine habitats, or preserving unique marine ecosystems. While MPAs may offer promise for the conservation and management of marine fisheries and their habitats, much is unknown about what benefit, if any, has been derived from existing MPAs for the conservation and management of marine fish and their habitats (other than in small, localized areas) or what benefit may be derived from the establishment of new MPAs. To date, there has been a great deal of hype, but precious little science.

Although MPAs may offer potential benefits for marine fish resources and their habitats, they may pose a real danger, too, if strict adherence to good science is not maintained regarding their purposes and siting. MPAs, particularly those imposing no-take, could result in vast areas of prime fishing grounds being “locked up”, which could needlessly impact fishery production. Moreover, no-take MPAs may result in heavier fishing or other activities outside of their boundaries, exacerbating rather than resolving fish resource problems. MPAs, by themselves, may also create a false sense of security about fishery resources – neither fish nor currents respect artificial boundaries.

In California, for example, reserves have been in existence for as long as 39 years, yet little data exists regarding their overall performance. To date no funding has been dedicated to ongoing monitoring of these reserves, even in the developing Channel Islands process. The fishing industry does not support the establishment of any reserve without a structure for assessing its performance and the funding for that assessment, nor of any reserve whose establishment is inconsistent with the principles of this document.

To initiate a rational and science-based discussion on MPAs, mindful of the need to conserve and manage fish resources on a sustainable basis, and to protect marine habitats and ecosystems and the fisheries that depend on these fish resources, the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations establishes the following principles:

1. No establishment of an MPA shall inhibit sustainable fisheries within that MPA that have negligible impacts on the habitats or species of concern.

2. MPAs are not a substitute for other forms of fishery management, including seasons, quotas, or gear restrictions, nor shall MPAs be a substitute for prohibitions on pollution, dumping, or the introduction of exotic species.

3. MPAs shall not be used as a tool to reallocate resource use. Creation of any zones for recreational fishing only, or for dive fishing only, must be balanced by creation of zones of comparable value for commercial fishing only.

4. Planning and management for the marine environment must be done on a regional scale, and be catch-based and multiple-use. The planning approach must ensure participation by stakeholders and other interested parties from the beginning. Land use and other non-fishing impacts must also be addressed.

5. Methodologies and criteria for assessing performance of all MPAs must be developed before new MPAs are implemented; this includes funding for performance assessments.

6. The review of the effectiveness of existing MPAs, as well as the siting and establishment of any new MPAs, must include fishing men and women from both the commercial and sport sectors. This is necessary not only because MPAs affect or could affect fishing areas, but more importantly because fishermen have an intimate and working knowledge of the marine environment, including that of many areas of the ocean where there has been no research.

7. A thorough and science-based review needs to take place of all existing marine protected areas along the U.S. Pacific coast to determine their effectiveness for either: a) providing baseline research information; b) protecting critical marine habitats; or c) protecting specific marine fish or organisms. This review should be undertaken by a panel, including marine scientists, appropriate fishery agency representatives, knowledgeable commercial and sport fishermen, and knowledgeable marine conservation representatives, and will include a report with recommendations for each existing MPA and no-fishing zone as to its effectiveness and whether there should be any changes in regulations and boundaries, and whether it should be maintained, reduced, expanded, or eliminated, and why.

A similar review must be conducted of the types and effectiveness of MPAs in use in other parts of the world to provide the state, scientists, and the fishing industry guidance on whether new MPAs should be established offshore California and other states and, if so, what their objectives should be, their appropriate size, and types of regulations for their use. It is important to recognize the uniqueness of the U.S. Pacific Coast when developing objectives. Measures that are appropriate in tropical waters may not be appropriate here.

8. If, after thorough review, there is a decision to proceed with revising current MPAs or establishing new ones, the objectives of each MPA must be stated clearly; i.e., whether it is to provide baseline research, protect habitat, or protect specific species, or some combination thereof. Regulations for use of the MPA must be appropriate to the objectives. A reasonable time frame for meeting the MPA’s objectives must be included.

9. The regulation of the types of use to be permitted in each MPA can and should vary depending on the objectives of the MPA, with MPAs established as any one of three or more types, including those to protect habitats, those to protect specific species of marine fish or organisms, and those where take is prohibited.

10. Where no-take MPAs may be established, not only must all types of fishing be prohibited, but so too must any unpermitted scientific collection or any other form of removal from within the boundary of the MPA be prohibited. No dumping or introduction of pollutants shall be permitted in any no-take MPA, and human access shall be greatly restricted in order to maintain the pristine condition of the MPA and its value for baseline research.

11. In the siting of any new MPAs, factors to be considered shall include the uniqueness of the area, its biological productivity/diversity or special habitats, the human impacts on that area (including fishing, other types of aquatic harvesting or collection, pollution, and structural changes such as dumping, artificial reefs, or oil rigs). Siting shall be based solely on the evidence regarding the site itself and without regard to proximity of existing parks, marine sanctuaries, or research institutions.

12. Recent changes in fishery management practices, fishing effort, and gear types used must be included in consideration of any new MPAs so as not to use MPAs to address problems already addressed by existing fisheries management. The entire existing and proposed web of federal and state fisheries regulations applicable to the area must be considered in designing any new MPA.

13. In the establishment of any new MPAs, careful consideration shall be given to what, if any, impacts the establishment may have on fishing, or the use of certain types of fishing gear, what impacts an MPA may have on fishing effort outside the MPA boundary, and what steps can be taken to mitigate any impacts on fishing from the establishment of an MPA. Any such impacts shall be distributed among fishermen in a fair and equitable manner. Every effort shall be made to protect existing fisheries, consistent with the science-based selection of unique or productive areas deserving of some level of protection under MPA status.

14. Where significant reduction in fisheries is an unavoidable consequence of establishment of an MPA consistent with the above guidelines, funding for the compensation of fishermen in proportion with the reduction of the fishery shall be part of the establishment of the MPA.

15. Recognizing a changing ocean environment and the continuing increase in human knowledge of the marine environment, MPAs shall be subject to adaptive management, with regular reviews conducted of their performance while recognizing that regulatory or protective measures may not have immediate results. Reviews should include assessment of non-fishing factors that inhibit the productivity of an MPA, including non-point source pollution problems. Under an adaptive management program, utilizing experts from the fishery agencies, marine researchers, social scientists, and the fishing and conservation community, MPAs should be subject to periodic review of their regulations, boundaries, and whether some existing ones should be eliminated and/or new ones established.

(Revised and adopted by the PCFFA Board February 2002)

Remarks by
Panel Discussion on Biology: Marine Protected Areas
to the AGU/AAAS Conference
Washington, DC - 18 July 2000

Good morning. I wish to thank the members of the House Oceans Caucus, the American Geophysical Union and the American Association for the Advancement of Science for hosting this oceans conference. And, I am grateful for the invitation to provide some comments to this gathering, from the perspective of the fishing industry, on marine protected areas or “MPAs.”

Marine protected areas are viewed by those of us in America’s oldest industry, whose livelihoods depend on abundant and healthy marine resources, as both a promise and a threat. The promise, of course, is that MPAs can serve as another tool for protecting critical fish habitats or resident fish populations, thereby resulting in a greater abundance of fish for harvest. They can also be a tool to help speed the recovery of depleted fish stocks. The threat, obviously, is that MPAs may cut off vast ocean areas which, if they become no-take zones, would deny access to important fishing grounds and, perhaps, cause greater pressure on those areas remaining open. The concern of many of us in the industry is that the policy surrounding, and the siting of, MPAs must be based on good science, involving both scientists and those with first-hand knowledge of marine areas, such as commercial fishing men and women. MPA policy and siting should not and cannot be entrusted to political consultants or environmental NGO fund raisers.

Attached to these remarks are copies of a set of principles for establishing MPAs that my organization, representing working men and women in the west coast commercial fishing fleet - primarily and small and mid-size vessel owner/operators, put together. Also attached is copy of the 1997 MPA testimony presented by the late Nat Bingham who served as PCFFA’s Habitat Director and was a member of NRC’s Committee on Ecosystem Management for Sustainable Marine Fisheries.

My brief comments today focus on five issues surrounding MPAs: 1) who should be involved in developing MPA policy/governance and the process for siting MPAs; 2) the purpose for an MPA; 3) uses within an MPA; 4) the size of an MPA; and 5) what should not be expected of MPAs. I will also touch briefly on the role of national marine sanctuaries.

First off, to assure the long-term viability of any MPA program, it must involve those who have knowledge of marine systems - scientists who have the training and who have studied coastal and ocean processes, and those with experience working in the marine environment - commercial and recreational fishing men and women, divers and other maritime users. I am wary of letting MPA policies being left to advocates, many with little actual experience in the marine environment. I am wary, too, of like-minded panels of either scientists or fishing men and women sitting by themselves. The experience of most marine scientists on the water is limited by time and money. And, while fishing men and women spend their time deriving their livelihoods from sea, most lack scientific observational skills and training and may be financially conflicted. However, putting scientists together with maritime users, such as fishermen, is the best means, I believe, for developing MPA policy and gaining broad acceptance for that policy. It is also the means most likely to assure the best sites will be selected for MPAs, with clear purposes and appropriate sizing.

Second, the purpose for establishing an MPA must be clear. While this may sound like common sense, the fact is that many of the MPA advocates are not clear on what it is they want to do. Some are arguing for ocean wilderness, others to prevent overfishing or improve fisheries management. The point is, the purpose must be clear on what it is an MPA is established for, and that purpose or purposes must stand up to careful scrutiny. If, for example, an MPA is established to prevent overfishing of a particular fish species, it is not unreasonable to ask whether other measures might not be as effective or more effective without “locking up” areas of the ocean, and whether the MPA is of the right size and sited in the right area to accomplish its purpose.

Third, MPAs do not have to be “no-take” zones. Depending on what an MPA is being established for, all that may be necessary (indeed, all that may be sought if trying to cover a large area) would be restrictions on certain types of uses, such as specific fishing gears that may damage sensitive habitats, or restricting the take only of certain species whose protection is being sought. Moreover, where no-take is specified for an MPA, to provide an area for baseline marine research, for example, prohibitions on other uses, not just fishing, are probably appropriate as well. For example, it may do little good to ban fishing within an MPA and then open it up for “scientific collecting” by those selling to the aquarium trade.

Fourth, the sizing of an MPA (or the total amount of area dedicated for MPAs) ought not to be some arbitrary amount, i.e., 20 percent, but should be based on good science and sized according to the purpose of the MPA and its site. It may, for example, on some coral reefs be necessary to set aside a large amount to effect the protection needed, in other areas, however, only a small fraction of the ocean area may be needed to accomplish the stated purpose of the MPA.

Fifth, MPAs should not be seen as a substitute for other protective measures, whether they be fishing regulations, clean water standards or restrictions on dumping. Fish stocks move about and if an MPA is established to help replenish those stocks, little will be accomplished if there are no corresponding regulations on fishing taking place outside of a reserve. Likewise, water moves. Currents will carry pollutants from open areas into MPAs. It is critical therefore, that we maintain strict adherence to the Clean Water Act, including TMDL (total maximum daily loading) standards no matter how politically unpopular they may be with the timber industry and polluters. MPAs are no more a magic bullet for marine protection than ITQs (Individual Transferable Quotas) are a silver bullet for sustainable fisheries. There is no single or simple solution, nor politically easy answer.

Finally, let me comment briefly on MPAs and the National Marine Sanctuary Program. There may be areas within some of the nation’s marine sanctuaries that may be worthy of MPA status. Presently, some of our members are working with the Channel Islands Marine Sanctuary on a possible site or sites for an MPA within the boundaries of that sanctuary. Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary, also along the California coast, contains some critical habitats that may, too, warrant MPA protection at least to protect those rocky ridges and out-croppings. But before anyone begins assuming because an area has been designated a marine sanctuary that it therefore ought to be an MPA should look at the history of many of the sanctuaries and what they were promised to protect. Offshore California, at least three of the four sanctuaries were established with the clear intent of protecting the waters from offshore oil drilling and ocean dumping. They were not established for the purpose of closing the waters to traditional uses and, in fact, most were established with fishing industry support to protect critical fishing grounds from oil drilling. It is important to remember, too, that a number of areas worthy of MPA consideration were not placed in sanctuaries because there were no real or perceived threats to them at the time.

In conclusion let me just say how pleased I am that both the American Geophysical Union and the American Association for the Advancement of Science are co-hosts of this conference. After all, if MPAs are to be successful, we must utilize good science - in the development of policy and governance, in establishing a process for siting the areas and, finally, for ongoing evaluation of each MPA site to be able to adjust regulations, boundaries as may be necessary over time. Adaptive management of MPAs will hinge on good science.

As I said at the outset, MPAs pose both a promise and a threat to the fishing industry. I would hope that working with the House Ocean Caucus and the scientific community, we can demonstrate the potential good MPAs may hold as a tool for achieving sustainable fisheries and healthy fishing communities and, too, help eliminate any cause for fear. Thank you.


to the


1 December 1997
Half Moon Bay, California

Good Afternoon Chairman Lempert and members of the Select Committee. My name is Nat Bingham and I am the Director of Habitat Protection for the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations (PCFFA). Prior to going to work full time for the PCFFA and the Institute for Fisheries Resources (IFR) on fish habitat protection issues, I was a commercial fisherman for over 30 years here on the Pacific Coast, although I actually began fishing as a teenager in the Bahamas.

I am also a public member of the Pacific Fishery Management Council, the federal body that recommends management measures for a number of Pacific fisheries to the Department of Commerce. Pursuant to changes made last year by Congress, with the passage of the Sustainable Fisheries Act, to the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation & Management Act, the Pacific Council and the other regional fishery councils are now amending their fishery management plans to include essential fish habitat.

I wish to thank the Select Committee for including a panel today on marine protected areas as part of the discussion on improving our management of our living marine resources. This is an issue I have been interested in for some years and from time to time have held discussions with other fishermen about the possible advantages of establishing protected areas -- from longline fishermen on the North Coast concerned about the impacts heavy trawl gear might be having on rockfish and their habitats to sea urchin and abalone fishermen pondering the question of whether establishing some no-take zones for those species might be beneficial to the fishery. The following are some of my thoughts based on my experience. They are not necessarily those of PCFFA or IFR.

At the outset of this discussion I should warn that while there may be some benefits to be achieved through the establishment of protected areas, including no-take zones, the setting aside of these areas is no panacea. Protected areas should not be seen as a substitute for other measures needed for the conservation of marine species; measures such as limiting the number of vessels or limiting the amount of gear, for example, or the establishment of seasons, or quotas -- where appropriate. Moreover, the mere establishment of protected areas, no matter how well placed, will do little good if there is not good enforcement to go with it. Nor will protected zones do much good unless water quality and disturbances, other than fishing, are controlled. Further, I do not see much benefit in “locking-up” vast areas of the ocean, such as the suggestion of 20%, merely for the sake of prohibiting fishing. Protected areas to be effective do not have to be large necessarily, but carefully selected for their attributes and well placed.

I would agree with Assemblyman Keeley and others that there needs to be a comprehensive and coordinated program for marine protected areas offshore California. Marine protected areas should serve the purpose of providing protection and understanding of our marine resources. And, we must guard against wealthy beachfront communities seeking to create de facto private playgrounds for themselves under the guise of marine reserves, as we witnessed this past year with the City of Malibu. State legislation addressing marine protected areas, I believe, requires a two-step process:

First, a panel consisting of marine scientists, appropriate Department of Fish & Game personnel (including enforcement), fishermen -- commercial and sport, marine conservation groups, the Coastal Commission, and federal agencies -- ranging from the National Marine Fisheries Service to the National marine sanctuaries to Sea Grant, should be established for the purpose of reviewing this state’s current marine protected areas. Fishermen definitely have to be part of any panel, not simply because it is their fishing grounds that may be affected, but more importantly because they have a first hand knowledge of the ocean habitats along many areas of the California coast where there has been little research or agency attention.

The excellent Sea Grant publication by Deborah McArdle, California Marine Protected Areas, could be used as the basis for that review to consider each of the existing protected areas and whether they should: 1) have boundary changes; 2) have regulatory changes; 3) be expanded; 4) be consolidated; or 5) be abolished (if they are not serving any purpose).

Second, this same panel could develop a set of criteria for establishment of new protected areas along the coast to be implemented either by the Legislature or the Commission. I suggest within the broad framework of a marine protected area program, the establishment of three categories as follows:

Critical Marine Habitat. This category would be aimed at protecting special habitats by regulating or restricting certain types of fishing gear, as well as prohibiting certain types of non- fishing activities; dredge spoil disposal, for example. It would also be the most encompassing geographically. Offshore Cape Mendocino, the Cordell Bank and other ocean bottoms off the state are rocky outcroppings that provide habitat essential for various species of rockfish. Because of their configuration these areas have been protected in the past but with newer and heavier trawl gear these habitats could be destroyed. In these types of settings, it may be necessary to restrict bottom trawling.

In other areas, however, it is the natural, sandy bottom trawl grounds that are being destroyed. Some examples of this are in the Santa Barbara Channel where shell mounds left from oil drilling, as well as the debris associated with oil drilling and the rigs themselves, create a threat to sandy bottom habitats that supported many important species of sole, flounder and halibut. Establishing these areas as Critical Marine Habitat as part of a California Marine Protected Areas Act, could benefit both the species indigenous to these areas as well as the fishery -- and specifically trawling -- by requiring the removal of oil development associated materials.

Marine Replenishment Zones. This category within a marine protected areas program would restrict or prohibit the take of certain species within an area, but allow fisheries for the harvest of other stocks. It should not, for example, in setting aside areas deemed essential for abalone or sea urchin spawning or protection of stocks of resident rockfish, be necessary to eliminate other types of fisheries such as salmon trolling or even the use of crab traps. The intent of this category would be to create protected zones for species that may require specific densities or have other special requirements.

Marine Preserves. This last category would be a no-take zone, including both fishing and scientific collection. It would, obviously, be the most narrowly drawn, and would be established for the purposes of providing baseline information, observation, and non-collection scientific research. If does little good to simply restrict fishing and then promote diving or other human activities within these “protected” areas. Access to marine preserves must be carefully restricted to prevent another Yosemite floor -- a kind of marine Disneyland. We know from experience with coral reefs that controlling water pollution, diving and collection is as important as fishing bans to protect marine ecosystems. With marine preserves, the focus must be on protection, not recreation or entertainment.

Mr. Chairman, I am supportive of state legislation aimed at reviewing California’s marine protected areas and establishing criteria for the establishment of new ones. As I mentioned, marine protected areas may be useful in our efforts to conserve our marine stocks and enhance some marine fisheries. But we must recognize their limitations and not attempt to use them where other measures are needed. Protected areas must be carefully placed, considering the geography and the species of concern in each area. The fishing industry must be part of this process. The areas and the restrictions placed on each must be enforceable. They must, where necessary, be able to regulate all human activity, not simply fishing. And, we must recognize that “one size does not fit all.” There is a need for different categories of marine protected areas, as I mentioned, and each of these must be tailored to the specific area.

Thank you again for this opportunity to testify here this afternoon. I will be happy to answer any questions members of the Select Committee may have.

See also:

Marine Reserves: Friend or Foe? (From February, 1999, Fishermen's News)

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