Last month, MPA News asked resource planners for their views on an initiative to create a network of MPAs off the coast of the US state of California. The initiative completed its first phase in April, with designation of 29 MPAs along the state’s central coast (MPA News 8:10). Its second phase, covering the north central coast, was launched this past February, and phases for the north and south coasts will follow in coming years.

This month, MPA News asked representatives of the commercial and recreational fishing sectors for their views on the planning process so far:

  • Vern Goehring, manager of the California Fisheries Coalition, an association of commercial and recreational fishing organizations; and
  • Rich Holland, editor of Western Outdoors, a magazine dedicated to sportfishing in the western US.

MPA News: The state law on which this planning process is based, the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA), calls for the use of the “best readily available science” to plan MPAs. An official report on lessons from the first phase [available at] said the process was challenged by basic disagreement between marine ecologists and fisheries scientists. Ecologists tend to view MPAs, and specifically no-take reserves, as a simple but effective ecosystem-management method. Some fisheries scientists view reserves as blunt tools that cause economic inefficiencies. Will future planning phases need to decide how to address this?

Goehring: The MLPA says to use the best available science – it doesn’t say to pick among supposedly conflicting sciences. It means: Find a way to integrate the different applicable sciences, ensuring that the best thinking and discoveries of both get used. However, we saw that simply choosing a preferred science was easier. The MLPA Initiative staff made the decision to look only to ecology and the easier-to-understand concept of “conservation by MPAs”. Fishery science, with its more complex models, was ignored.

Holland: Not only is there basic disagreement between marine ecologists and fisheries scientists regarding no-take marine reserves as an effective ecosystem management method; there is a difference of opinion among ecologists on how to make no-take reserves effective – for example, how large a reserve needs to be to work. In addition, the theory of larval transport between reserves in a network remains unproven. Yet the Science Advisory Team [appointed to advise the MLPA Initiative] used it in setting guidelines for spacing of reserves.

MPA News: There was some contention over how much information on socioeconomic impacts – as opposed to ecological impacts – should be incorporated in decision-making about networking design. What are your thoughts on this?

Goehring: Socioeconomic analysis was superficial, looking only at direct catch-related revenue to commercial fishermen and ignoring the multiplier effects in the community (i.e., supporting industries and jobs; employee families shopping and spending; tourists eating seafood and strolling wharfs). Also, there was no effort to quantify the economics of increased seafood imports and the increasing public concern about ensuring food security. Likewise, little or no effort was made to identify the economic value of recreational fishing.

The MLPA does not require nor suggest an economic analysis to determine costs or gains be done. However, good government calls for implementing laws and adopting regulations using the least costly alternative to adequately accomplish a public policy goal. MLPA should be about adequately protecting ecosystems and biodiversity at the least cost – which requires considering other available measures besides MPAs to help meet the same goals.

Holland: Higher degrees of protection were given to rock, hard-bottom, reef, and headland environments – where fishing activity is most prevalent – even though ecologists on the Science Advisory Team admitted all habitats should be evenly weighted for true biodiversity. It has been said that the MPAs designated in the first phase cover “less than 10 percent of the Central Coast.” The potential impacts are actually much higher. The impact from loss of recreational fishing was not even considered and in several instances the safest areas for small boaters to fish were put off-limits.

This was and is a public policy move, not science. It is a land grab of much of the best remaining habitat along the coast. California already had very large MPAs [established by the US Pacific Fishery Management Council], including a 15,000-km2 conservation zone for cowcod, in which bottomfishing is prohibited, and closure of the shelf off California to protect rockfish. Environmentalists opposed considering these as existing MPAs in the MLPA Initiative because they are not permanent.

For more information:

Vern Goehring, 1621 13th St., Suite B, Sacramento, CA 95814, USA. E-mail:

Rich Holland, Western Outdoors, P.O. Box 73370, San Clemente, CA 92673, USA. E-mail:

Paper on lessons from MLPA implementation

A 2006 paper in Environmental Law Reporter journal expressed additional lessons from the first phase of the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative. Author James Mize, a former commercial fisherman and current law student at the University of California, Los Angeles, says one lesson is “Be realistic with expectations.”

“It is important to distinguish the original MLPA as passed in 1999 from the current MLPA Initiative,” Mize tellsMPA News. “The law originally demanded development of a preferred alternative for siting of the entire California network of MPAs, including marine reserves, following only a year and a half of consultation. This statutory deadline proved hopelessly optimistic and insufficient to engage the relevant communities. By trying to do too much, too quickly, with too little resources, initial efforts were doomed from the start.

“By contrast, the renewed effort initiated in 2004 with the MLPA Initiative pursued goals that are more realistic. Rather than addressing the entire length of the state at once, the Initiative embraced a gradual approach, tackling one region at a time and extending the anticipated deadline out to 2011. This approach enabled planners to use robust stakeholder engagement strategies and prevented overextension of resources.”

The paper “Lessons in State Implementation of Marine Reserves: California’s Marine Life Protection Act Initiative” is available in PDF format at, or by e-mailing Mize at