BHA Opposes Sweeping Fishing Closures in California

Right now in California, anglers, spear fishers, Tribes and other saltwater stakeholders are grappling with a series of regulatory petitions that could result in reduced fishing access along thousands of acres of coastline.

Read our letter, and take action below.

Last week, the California Fish & Game Commission heard and discussed multiple petitions that if enacted, would significantly reduce the fishing access in several areas along California’s coast. BHA staff recently combed through over a thousand pages of the petitions to present our recommendations to the Fish & Game Commission regarding the proposed expansion and modification of the Marine Protected Area Network along California’s coastline.

First a bit of backstory: Per the Marine Life Protection Act of 1999, the state of California redesigned and expanded Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) in order to function as a network and “increase coherence and effectiveness in protecting the state's marine life and habitats, marine ecosystems, and marine natural heritage, as well as to improve recreational, educational and study opportunities provided by marine ecosystems subject to minimal human disturbance.” These MPAs fall into several management categories, from State Marine Reserves (SMRs), which do not allow any commercial or recreational fishing, to State Marine Conservation Areas (SMCAs), which can allow for select species and season specific commercial and recreational take, but many allow for only limited take and some are no-take at all.

Every ten years this network of MPAs undergoes a review in which the California Department of Fish & Wildlife (CDFW), the California Fish & Game Commission (Commission) and the Ocean Protection Council (OPC) evaluate the management status of the MPA Network to see ecologically what is working and what is not. This is called adaptive management, and the state just completed its first Decadal Management Review of the network (DMR). Following the DMR the public was encouraged to submit petitions and public comments (view BHA’s comments), advocating for changes in management to provide recommendations to the MPA Network Managers.

During the February meeting of the Commission, numerous petitions were considered that would create new MPAs or change the management designation of several MPAs with significant impacts to fishing. In our comment letter that was signed by several other conservation organizations and 600 members of the public, California BHA outlined our recommendations for which petitions the Commission should deny and which should be referred to CDFW for further review. Several petitions called for changing SMCAs to SMRs or changing SMCAs to no-take SMCAs, both of which would eliminate the ability to recreationally fish on thousands of acres of shoreline.

To be clear, BHA and most responsible anglers support fishing restrictions when there is clear and well supported scientific rationale. For example, BHA was part of the numerous fishing groups and organizations that supported the closure of the 2023 salmon season following the data and dismal projections provided by the Pacific Fisheries Management Council and CDFW. The issue with several of these petitions that call for eliminating fishing entirely, is that they are prescribing sweeping, preservationist tactics that have tenuous scientific backing at best, instead of relying on the case by case, area by area, species by species decisions structures that are already in place. Those include the regulatory mechanisms established by the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act working through the Pacific Fisheries Management Council, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW), the Fish & Game Commission, and the additional state/federal laws and agencies dedicated to this task.  

BHA is an organization built around the importance of advocating for wild public lands, waters and widlife and we recognize many of the anthropogenic threats  to our marine ecosystems including climate change, pollution, disease and habitat loss. However, many of these petitions don’t address any of the negative pressures impacting our fish and costal habitats, but instead rely on assumptions based on limited scientific research. Restricting the ability to harvest coastal foods where state and federal fisheries managers have demonstrated robust and resilient fish stocks without any current threat of overfishing, is not a scientifically sound management decision. BHA supports safeguarding our nation’s fish stocks and encourages management decisions to be made not in sweeping broad strokes, but with well-documented scientific rational, operational specificity, and the due process of the large body of fishery regulations that guide our current management decisions.

During the February meeting of the Fish & Game Commission, we were encouraged by the statement by Commissioner Zavaleta who read our letter and addressed many of our concerns, saying, “I'm not sure that curtailing fishing opportunity where evidence doesn't support it or even refutes the idea that that would enhance the conservation goal is in line with our mission as the Fish & Game Commission.”

In addition to circumventing existing scientifically backed management techniques, several of these petitions have the potential to harm long-term conservation efforts by reducing the access and opportunities for Californians to spend time connecting with marine ecosystems. Shore fishing, diving/spearfishing, kayak/boat fishing and coastal gathering are low impact activities that reflect the broad spectrum of California's diverse community and constitute a valuable resource for individuals across the economic divide to access nature, provide food for their families, and cultivate their own conservation ethics. Restricting that access in the name of preservation goes against the goals of Governor Newsom and President Biden’s commitments to conserve 30% of lands and waters by 2030 while providing “Access for All” to public lands and waters (30x30). Indeed, the kind of recreational fishing these petitions would eliminate is often the easiest for historically marginalized communities to access, and if successful, would disproportionately affect the fishing rights of low-income Californians, people of color and non-federally recognized tribe members who would be left with no process by which to regain their rights to fish in the now restricted areas.

All of the petitions heard by the Commission were referred to the department for review and recommendation and we look forward to their scientific analysis. Upon receipt of this information we encourage the Commission to deny those petitions that CDFW deems to be unsupported by robust data, and that would unnecessarily erode our longstanding coastal fishing and foraging traditions. Further, we applaud Commissioner Zavaleta in her stance that coastal management decisions must be made not in broad strokes, but in the scientifically backed, case-by-case basis that has been successful in safeguarding our fish stocks for generations.


About Devin O'dea

Devin grew up abalone diving, spearfishing, and backpacking in CA before discovering a love of bowhunting and wing shooting. He worked as a marketing manager for a carbon division of Mitsubishi, but the allure of adventure and wild places led him to BHA