Compliance with restrictions on fishing at marine sanctuaries off the coast of Southern California appears to be high two years after the reserves were created.
The Marine Protected Areas bar or limit fishing in 50 zones spanning 15% of state waters from Santa Barbara County to the Mexican border. They took effect in the state's busiest region in 2012, with some favored fishing spots remaining open and others placed almost entirely off-limits to promote marine life conservation.
Recreational fishermen who fought their lost access have suffered a series of defeats in court.
After spending more than $1.3 million on legal challenges, the United Anglers of Southern California say they are running out of money and are close to giving up. "We're still fighting, but we're probably going to end up losing," said John Riordan, the group's treasurer.
Wardens last year issued about 145 citations for violations of Southern California's marine protected areas — a fraction of the roughly 4,000 tickets issued for various violations across the eight-county district encompassing the sanctuaries, said Dan Sforza, an assistant chief of enforcement for the state Department of Fish and Wildlife.
The high compliance level is consistent with findings by environmental groups conducting boat-, land- and airplane-based surveys of activity in the marine sanctuaries through a program called MPA Watch.
If the sanctuaries work as designed, ultimately there will be more fish to catch, experts say. Over time, the reserves should help depleted species like rockfish and spiny lobster bounce back, giving them space to grow bigger and more abundant.
Marine life could spread beyond the protected zones in a "spillover effect," making more fish available to anglers.
"We'd like to see that effect, but it remains to be seen" said Riordan, of the United Anglers, a recreational fisherman based in Dana Point Harbor.