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Fishing Area Closures

Sometimes science calls for a shutdown of an area of saltwater to save a fish species, but how reliable is that science?

Fishing Area Closures

Key Facts:

  • Depressed fish stocks can be rebuilt by relying on recreational anglers as stewards of the resource.
  • Marine protected areas (MPA) should be designated only when justified by scientifically-based methods via a transparent and open process, and should be monitored and revised as necessary to ensure effectiveness.
  • The science used for determining MPA locations should be site specific, as in many areas it is possible to accomplish the same goals with less area being affected. Should the designation of an MPA be deemed necessary, planners should strive to determine the smallest possible area that would be effective in achieving the goals of the MPA to designate as no-take, while leaving the majority of the MPA open for multiple use, including recreational angling.
  • Multiple-use MPAs, with small isolated pockets of no-take areas, have been shown to be more effective than cookie-cutter style, no-take-only areas both in terms of generating stakeholder involvement, as well as compliance. Without compliance, the MPA designation is self-defeating and will fail to accomplish the intended goals.

When all else fails in managing saltwater fisheries, the government shuts it down. Where things get dicey is in determining what constitutes a failing fishery.

According to the American Sportfishing Association, “Marine protected area proposals in California and elsewhere throughout the country are unnecessarily restricting the public’s ability to fish along our nation’s coasts.”

Federal and state closures, especially in California through their Marine Life Protection Act, where huge areas of ocean waters are closed to fishing (notably red snapper), cause widespread turmoil and damages. California’s MLPA was signed into law in 1999 and then-President Bill Clinton signed an executive order in 2000 expanding this to federal waters as well.

While commercial fishing practices can be extremely damaging to environments, banning rod-and-reel sportfishing is not as effective as traditional management measures such as size and catch limits, gear restrictions or even closed seasons, according to a 2002 study by Robert Shipp, Ph.D., chair of the Marine Sciences department at the University of South Alabama.

In areas where there is overwhelming scientific implications that fishing needs to be closed, the option of limited recreational fishing should still be considered.

The current law governing ocean fisheries management, the Magnuson-Stevens Act, dictates that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) set catch limits and accountability measures for about 550 fish species. The problem is that NOAA has only completed a little more than 100 of these assessments. This lack of scientific research could lead to a huge uptick in unnecessary closures.

There is legislation aimed at revamping the Magnuson-Stevens Act to curtail sudden closures of saltwater fisheries without due science currently introduced in the House of Representatives, but time is running out, as NOAA’s deadline to prepare these catch limits has already passed.