In summary

AB 3030 could have been another shining example for California to lead in science-based marine protection and environmental justice.

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By Anupa Asokan, Special to CalMatters

Anupa Asokan is campaign manager at WSL PURE and serves on the National Board of Directors for Surfrider Foundation,

I learned to fish almost as soon as I could walk. Fishing has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. It was my first connection to the ocean. It’s how I learned to respect and appreciate our natural environment and all it provides. And looking back now, it’s what inspired me to study the ocean and devote my career to its conservation. 

Despite growing up a fisher, being Brown and female – particularly on Florida’s Gulf Coast – meant the collective term “fishermen” has rarely applied to me. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve had to defend my purchase choices at a tackle store or turn-down patronizing offers to help. 

No, I’m not buying a gift for my boyfriend/dad/brother/other male figure; and yes, I can handle this boat myself and bait my own hook, thank you. 

These are just two examples in a long list of experiences that have separated me from the term “fishermen” and the mainstream sentiments, opinions and politics associated with it.

So, I’m kicking myself for not speaking out sooner for all the people who are in fact “fishermen” and don’t look like the staff, boards and people actually represented by all the fishing organizations so openly opposed to Assembly Bill 3030 and are claiming victory that it didn’t pass the California state Senate. 

They do not represent the voice of the true collective fishing community, they represent short-sighted and selfish interests of the people who look like them. They are using the powerful lobbying voice of “the fisherman” to push an agenda that’s not good for the ocean or the long-term success of any species we fish. 

I’m a fisherwoman and a marine scientist, and I’m here to tell you that protecting at least 30% of our ocean is critical if we want to continue to fish now and into the future. 

In California and around the world, protected areas are proven to increase the number of fish available outside of the protected space. So even though certain areas are closed to fishing, we actually boost a fishery through what’s called the “spillover effect.” 

Beyond the direct benefits to habitats and species, marine protected areas also help create jobs, boost the economy and mitigate the impacts of climate change. Commendably, AB 3030 went even further to “improve access to nature for all people in the state,” “with a specific emphasis on increasing access for communities of color and economically disadvantaged communities.”

California is a leader in environmental protection, and moreover, California has become a leader in doing it the right way. This leadership is one of the many reasons I love California and am proud to have chosen this state as my home. 

In designating our current network of marine protected areas, California led the way in making the process inclusive and equal for all stakeholder groups, particularly the historically overlooked or ignored tribal nations. In marine policy textbooks, California is often the example of best practices in marine protection. 

Perfect? No, but AB 3030 could have been another shining example for California to lead in science-based marine protection and environmental justice. Particularly as an international community is joining together to call for protection of 30% of our planet, AB 3030 would have given California the opportunity to lead on this global stage. 

Two years ago, I moved back to Southern California after 10 years away. I came back to a state that successfully protected 16% of its waters to the benefit and recovery of many important species. Giant black sea bass, overfished to near extinction, are now consistently spotted in and around the protected Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary. Unfortunately, I did not come back to my favorite kelp forests. This iconic and critical habitat to many of California’s fisheries is quickly disappearing

Protected places, informed by science and thoughtfully chosen, give habitats like these and the species that call them home a fighting chance at recovery and resilience in the face of climate change. 

We’re rapidly reaching a tipping point we cannot recover from. We, as fishers, surfers, ocean-lovers and citizens of California, need policies like AB 3030 now. Policies that recognize the disenfranchised, create opportunities for justice, and protect our planet and its biodiversity for future generations.

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