Fish & Game Commission votes to close abalone season next year

posted in: Spotlight | 0

How are those highly touted “Yosemites of the Sea” on the North Coast, created under California’s privately-funded Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative, working out?

Not very well, if you look at the recent vote by state regulators to close the recreational abalone fishery in 2018, due to the dramatic decline of the red abalone populations by a collapse in kelp growth along the coast and the explosion of the purple urchin population.

The California Fish and Game Commission on December 7 voted to close the 2018 northern California recreational abalone fishery due to “ongoing environmental conditions that have significantly impacted the abalone resource,” according to a press release from Jordan Traverso of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW).

The closure affects next year’s recreational abalone season that was scheduled to open on April 1, 2018. Abalone diving has been a tradition for many generations, while California Indian Tribes have been harvesting abalone and other shellfish for thousands of years.

While the latest press release from CDFW didn’t specify what the “ongoing environmental conditions” are, a previous release reported how the growth of kelp — a major food source for red abalone – has declined significantly over the past three years. Dramatic increases in purple sea urchin populations have further reduced the food available for abalone.

At the latest meeting, CDFW staff advised the Commission to close the recreational abalone season in 2018 after six “diver-scientists” analyzed 10 seafloor sites along California’s coast and reported that 37 percent of all recorded abalone were dead, the San Jose Mercury News reported.

Divers and the Nature Conservancy tried to find a way to save the season, but to no avail.

“We’ve never seen a decline like this over a short period of time,” said Sonke Mastrup, the Environmental Program Manager for the CDFW’s Invertebrate Program.

Traverso said the Commission’s 4-0 decision – Commissioner Jacque Hostler-Carmesin was absent – “upholds the policies” of the Abalone Recovery and Management Plan, adopted by the Commission in December 2005. Over the past several years, the Commission has taken several actions to reduce take and shorten the season to protect abalone from the unprecedented environmental conditions.

“The Commission directed the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) to work with stakeholders to deliver a new fishery management plan that includes guidance on navigating these unprecedented conditions. The Commission also directed CDFW to consider how the new fishery management plan can inform the potential reopening of some fishing opportunity for the 2019 season,” Traverso concluded.

In December 2016, the Commission took emergency action to adopt regulations reducing the annual recreational limit from 18 to 12 abalone, except for Sonoma County, for which the annual limit remained at 9 abalone.

The Commission also reduced the recreational abalone fishing season from 7 months to 5 by closing the season in April and November, the first and last months of the regular season. On Aug 16, 2017, FGC readopted the emergency regulations that expired on Dec 5, 2017.

Northern California’s recreational red abalone fishery has been enjoyed by tens of thousands of divers along the Sonoma and Mendocino coast. A recent CDFW study estimated that approximately 31,000 abalone divers derived between $24 million and $44 million per year of recreational value from the fishery.

However, the value of this fishery declined nearly $12 million after stricter regulations were imposed in 2014 following a harmful algal bloom that killed thousands of abalone in Sonoma County.

More information about California’s recreational abalone fisheries can be found on the CDFW website:

What you won’t find on the CDFW website is the complex truth about the alleged “marine protected areas” created under the MLPA Initiative, a privately funded process that was supposed to “protect” the California ocean ecosystem, including abalone and groundfish populations.

The abalone closure takes place after years of continual promotion of the MLPA Initiative’s “marine protected areas” as the “solution” to fishery declines by state officials and corporate “environmental” NGO representatives.

“By safeguarding our iconic ocean places – and the rich web of life they support – these jewels of the coast will help revive depleted fish populations and draw people to the coast to enjoy our remarkable marine wildlife,” said Karen Garrison, then the director of the Natural Resources Defense Council’s oceans program, in June 2012 after the Fish and Game Commission voted to approve the creation of so-called “marine protected areas” on the North Coast from Point Arena in Mendocino County to the Oregon border.

However, these “iconic ocean places“ and “jewels of the coast” apparently have not done much to actually protect the ocean since they fail to protect coastal waters from fracking, oil spills, offshore oil drilling, pollution, military testing and all human impacts other than sustainable fishing and gathering.

In August 2016, the same Fish and Game Commission that voted to close the abalone season adopted the controversial Master Plan for Marine Protected Areas in California that delays regional reviews of MPAs, as originally promised, from every five years to every ten years. In other words, the Commission weakened the implementation of the Marine Life Protection Act of 1999 by delaying regional reviews of marine protected areas.

I made five points in my testimony before Commission President Eric Sklar, Vice President Jaque Hostler-Carmesin, Commissioner Anthony C Williams and Commissioner Peter Silva regarding “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly” in the Master Plan:

The Good: First, I strongly support the inclusion of Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) from California Indians in the Master Plan. This is long overdue, considering that the marine protected areas were “completed“ in December 2012 without one single Tribal scientist ever being allowed to serve on the Science Advisory Teams for the MLPA Initiative.

The Bad: Second, the proposal breaks the original promise given to anglers by officials that regional reviews of the alleged “marine protected areas” created under the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative would be conducted every five years. The new plan changes the regional reviews to once every ten years, a move that anglers and public trust advocates, including myself, strongly oppose because it results in less frequent scientific monitoring of the MPAs.

Here’s what the MLPA Initiative South Coast News, the official publication of the Initiative, actually said on October 16, 2009, contradicting claims by Commissioners that this promise to conduct five year reviews was never made:

“Q: If an area is closed as an MPA will it always be closed?

A: Not necessarily. The MLPA specifically requires monitoring, research and evaluation at selected sites to facilitate adaptive management of MPAs and ensure the system meets its goals and objectives. Within the MLPA master plan, it is recommended that the MPA network be evaluated approximately every five years. As MPAs are re-assessed for effectiveness, changes may be necessary, either to individual MPAs or the network as a whole. This may mean changing boundaries and/or allowances for extractive activities depending on how well MPAs are meeting goals. Just because an area is closed to one type of use or another does not mean that it will always be that way.”

The Ugly: Third, the plan does nothing to make the faux “marine protected areas” created under the MLPA Initiative into real ones. The alleged “Yosemites of the Sea” created under the privately funded initiative fail to protect the ocean from fracking, oil spills, offshore oil drilling, pollution, military testing and all human impacts other than sustainable fishing and gathering.

Fourth, the plan accepts as legitimate the tainted “marine protected areas” created under the helm of a Big Oil lobbyist and other corporate operatives with numerous conflicts of interest.

Catherine Reheis-Boyd, the president of the Western States Petroleum Association and relentless advocate for the expansion of fracking and offshore oil drilling and the evisceration of California’s environmental laws, chaired the MLPA Blue Ribbon Task Force for the Southern California Coast at the same time that the region’s marine waters were being fracked by her industry. (…)

She also served on the task forces for the Central Coast, North Central Coast and North Coast. The Commission should support an investigation into what Reheis-Boyd knew about fracking off the coast at the time she served as Chair of the task force.   

Fifth, the proposal fails to challenge the terminally flawed “science” employed to create MPAs under the “leadership” of a convicted embezzler. A federal judge in San Francisco on May 20, 2014 sentenced Ron LeValley of Mad River Biologists, the former co-chair of the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative Science Advisory Team for the North Coast, to serve 10 months in federal prison for his role in a conspiracy to embezzle over $852,000 in federal funds from the Yurok Tribe.

In spite of numerous complaints, the Fish and Game Commission refused to review the legitimacy of the “science” used to create the “marine protected areas” developed under his helm at the same time that he was engaged in a conspiracy to embezzle money from the Yurok Tribe.” More information:…

The Commission needs to finally address these unresolved issues posed by the “marine protected areas” created under the privately-funded MLPA Initiative. As expected, no Commissioners, all appointed by Governor Jerry Brown, replied to my comments and those that others made before the Commission on this issue.

As long as these outstanding issues with the MLPA Initiative are not resolved and the major factors behind fishery declines, including water exports and diversions, pollution, habitat destruction, upstream dams, poor water management and climate change, are aggressively addressed, we can expect expect to see declines in the abalone, salmon and other fisheries.

To make things worse, as red abalone, Sacramento winter run Chinook salmon and Delta fish populations continue to collapse, Governor Jerry Brown continues to fast track the construction of his Delta Tunnels, considered by opponents to be the most environmentally destructive public works project in California history. Not only would this project imperil winter-run and spring run Chinook, Central Valley steelhead, Delta and longfin smelt, green sturgeon and other San Francisco Bay-Delta fish populations, but it would threatened the salmon and steelhead populations on the Trinity and Klamath rivers.