In summary

Unless AB 3030 is changed to protect existing fishing access and to recognize sustainable management of West Coast fisheries, sport and commercial fishers must oppose it.

By Marc Gorelnik and

Marc Gorelnik chairs the Pacific Fishery Management Council, marc@gorelniklaw.com.

Mike Conroy, Special to CalMatters

Mike Conroy is executive director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, mike@ifrfish.org.

We Californians are rightfully protective of our environment. Unfortunately, our ecological ethic is not widely applied around the globe. 

In much of the world’s oceans, meaningful protections are absent. There are a variety of reasons: corrupt governments, lack of management and enforcement resources, and the simple lack of appreciation of the mutual benefits of a healthy, abundant ecosystem.

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Against this background, the international environmental community has joined forces to ensure our planet’s biodiversity by proposing to protect 30% of the world’s oceans, land and inland waters by the year 2030. Assembly Bill 3030, a bill introduced by Assemblymember Ash Kalra, a San Jose Democrat, would similarly declare California’s goal to protect at least 30% of California’s waters and lands by 2030. 

The goal is laudable, but the bill’s language is not. Unless the bill is fixed to protect existing fishing access – absent a need to protect biodiversity from specific harm – and to recognize the sustainable management of West Coast fisheries, sport and commercial fishers must regretfully oppose AB 3030.

Why have sport and commercial fishers up and down California’s coast opposed AB 3030? The bill strays from the international initiative from which it was spawned. The bill fails to recognize that the meaningful marine biodiversity protections sought elsewhere in the world already exist here in California. 

Whether an area is “protected” depends solely on the nature and extent of the restrictions applied there, not a label that may or may not be correctly applied. In California, existing fishing management measures already protect marine biodiversity and its role in the larger marine ecosystem.

Virtually all of the ocean waters off California are already protected by overlapping federal and state laws and regulations designed to protect the health of living marine resources. Significant threats remain to our oceans, such as offshore energy and mineral extraction, climate change, ocean acidification, plastics, inland pollution reaching the ocean, and water policies in our rivers that diminish stocks of salmon and steelhead. However, no evidence supports the notion that sustainable fishing in the ocean waters of California creates a risk to California’s marine biodiversity. If a threat from fishing were to arise, tools are already in place to address it.

AB 3030 ignores the presence of these existing, comprehensive biodiversity protections. Supporters claim that only 16% of ocean waters are “protected” because they focus solely on areas designated by the California Fish and Game Commission. These “no take” areas are the most extreme form of protection, but not the only form of biodiversity protection recognized by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.

Twenty years ago, there were a host of overfished marine species in California and little attention was paid to protecting habitat. That is no longer the case. Vast areas of the ocean have been and remain closed to fishing in order to minimize impacts and allow stocks to recover. As stocks rebuilt to healthy levels, fishing access was carefully and slowly restored. 

Much of the ocean bottom is protected as Essential Fish Habitat. All fishing activities must comply with the Endangered Species Act to protect listed species. Numerous National Marine Sanctuaries have been established along our coast. The tight management of fishing activities in the Golden State are now a model of biodiversity protection for the world.

California’s fishers rely on a healthy and abundant ecosystem. That is why fishers have consistently supported strong laws to protect living natural resources and preserve their abundance for generations to come. Gratuitously decreasing fishing access in California’s waters will do nothing to cure environmental malpractice happening elsewhere around the globe. Therefore, AB 3030 in its current form must be fixed or defeated.

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