Sounding Off: Data lacking in marine protection action

I run the day-to-day operations of Dana Wharf Sportfishing and Whale Watching in Dana Point Harbor. My family has had this business in Dana Point Harbor since 1971, and we have been fishing the Laguna Beach area since the 1950s when our business was located off the San Clemente pier.

I think it is accurate to say our experienced captains and crews who fish the area daily understand this coastal area and its marine resources better than most. They fish these areas year-round and have fished through good years and bad. It is important to know that this is our livelihood and we try to protect and conserve the areas we fish and always have. Since no newspaper in Laguna Beach, or Orange County for that matter, has contacted us to obtain our perspective of the MLPA [Marine Life Protection Act] closures, I thought I would write my own letter and offer that perspective.

Some say that the closure of the Laguna Beach coastline is a victory for fish, but in reality it is not. The fish that are being "protected" will continue to be consumed by predators. For some Laguna Beach residents this may be a victory for personal reasons of their own, but it's no victory for us or local residents who enjoy fishing. Visitors and businesses will also suffer from the economic impact of these closures.

During the MLPA process, we stayed engaged and tried to work with all groups to find the correct solution. This process refused to deal with pollution, or any other human or non-human effects on the fish population; in fact this process does not even know what it will be protecting since baseline studies in the exact area of the closure have not been done. Once an area is closed, then studies will be performed to see if and what needs protecting. Don't you think it would be good to know what is there and what needs protecting? A baseline study would tell us if any closures are actually needed prior to enacting closures.

Why not close fishing to a specific species for a limited time and then see what happens to the population size during that closure? Why not increase size limits on fish so that they have more years to reproduce? Why not lower the number of fish that can be caught per day? None of these options were considered despite numerous suggestions being offered at meeting after meeting. These ideas were simply ignored.

When children and people who have fished this area for decades ask why they are denied their right to fish, it is sad that the only answer we can give them is that we may or may not be protecting a species. We asked the MLPA czars to do the research to determine a logical baseline of a selected area before implementing a closure to make sure the area needs protecting and to see if a closure would accomplish anything.

We were told that there is no money to do a baseline before the closure area goes into effect. In other words, the MLPA czars' position is, "Don't bother us with facts, just do as we say." Do they think that fish won't swim out of the protected zones or migrate? Are we going to put in oceanic fencing to keep these fish in the protected area of Laguna Beach?

It is ridiculous that we have come to the point where catching dinner for your family would result in breaking the law. It is even more ridiculous that this huge area off Laguna Beach will not even allow catch-and-release fishing! Catch-and-release fishing is a sport to anglers where the fish are caught and safely released immediately back into the water. The angler is not interested in the amount they catch but more in the sport of fishing.

Our customers are teaching their children the importance of catch and release on a daily basis — they call it CPR: Catch, Photograph and Release! The reward for this conservation should not be a fishing closure with no defined goal! I hope everyone in Laguna Beach and those that use this area understands what is going on and is aware of the problems with the closures and the economic impact that will occur as a direct result of the closures. We are not and never have been anti-closures, but tell us what we are protecting!

Some Laguna Beach citizens have said this is just the price we will have to pay to "restore" fish stocks in five years. Not only is this a silly argument, but nobody has proven that fish stocks are down in the first place and that these closures are even warranted.

Any angler can tell you that the amount of fish in a given area can vary due to numerous environmental factors. More research is required so that we can determine what might be a reasonable baseline. With such a lack of research, what happens when the City Council realizes that the closures caused too many grievances with local residents and businesses and decides they want to reopen the area? They can't just vote to reopen it as those decisions will be made by bureaucrats in Sacramento. Does that group of anti-fishing citizens of Laguna who worked so hard to force this closure of our coast to the public realize that you cannot control this runaway train, once an area is closed it can remain closed forever? It is a sad day indeed for the citizens of California.

Dana Wharf Sportfishing and Whale Watching will continue to run fishing trips and make sure that we deliver the best possible service even with the loss of this area in Laguna Beach.

Donna Kalez lives in San Clemente.

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