Action to Protect Natural Fishing Habitat

The Oceana group with the United Anglers of Southern California (UASC) held a press conference at the Santa Monica Pier on Wednesday, April 20, to gain support for the alternative they have in conjunction with the Nearshore Fishery Management Plan (NFMP), both designed to help sustain our natural fishing habitat.

The federal government is poised to make a final decision on whether they will take action to protect essential marine habitat from Southern California up to Washington. Oceana, with many other groups, feels that trawling (a style of catching fish by dragging nets across the seafloor) is destroying the natural fish habitats and destroying the fishing industry.

"Basically what we're talking about is sustainable fishing, which means that the way we are catching fish nowadays, all of our fishing industries are beginning to collapse. So you get to eat a fish this big today, five years from now it's going to be this much smaller, if at all, because we are catching juveniles and we're just not fishing in a smart fashion," said Ted Danson, part of the board of director's for Oceana and famed TV actor (played Sam Malone in "Cheers"). "We are asking the fisherman to be smart, specifically we're asking them to just keep trawling the areas they have trawled before, don't go into pristine new areas. They trawl an area twice the size of the U.S. every year, so it is not like they are being deprived. Stay out of the new areas."

It was a timely event considering the 35th anniversary of Earth Day was held the same week.

Oceana and UASC have proposed Alternative 12, one of 14 alternatives to the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS). This was done in a government request for Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) after the lawsuit a coalition of groups filed in 2000 against the NMFS.

They argued that NMFS, through certain amendments, violated the Magnuson-Stevens Act and the National Environmental Policy Act, both put into effect during 1996 and designed for sustainability needs.

"It is incredibly important to get this information out to a wide audience," said Dan Jacobson, legislative director for Environment California.

Alternative 12 proposes three requirements through the Sustainable Fisheries Act of 1996 in an identifiable effort to save natural habitat. They argue there is no consideration for marine habitats on the ocean floor and the fishing practice of trawling is destroying essential habitat.

"It's not about crushing the trawling fleets, but keeping them in the foot-prints they make," said Jacobson. "They trawl an area two times the size of the U.S. each year."

The alternative identifies 41 areas of essential fish habitat requiring protection from bottom trawling destruction, redraws the lines of certain trawling areas that need protection, freezing the footprints that the fishing fleets create as they drag giant nets between two car-door sized weights with a heavy metal chain, or steel rollers across the sea floor, destroying the marine habitat below.

This action follows the passing of California Senate Bill 236 by State Senator Dede Alpert, which Gov. Schwarzenegger signed in 2004.

"Thanks to Gov. Schwarzenegger and Senator Alpert, protection for the seafloor in state waters out to three miles was adopted last year," said Jim Ayers, director of the Pacific for Oceana. "Now the fight is on for the living seafloor in federal waters out to the 200 mile U.S. boundary."