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Wednesday, March 16, 2011

MPA Volunteers to Serve as Data Gatherers

• Critics Are Portraying Young Field Workers as ‘Fish Police’

BY SUZANNE GULDIMANN


A training session for Marine Protected Area volunteers hosted by the City of Malibu, and sponsored by Heal the Bay, turned contentious last week, when opponents of the Point Dume Marine Protected Area that would limit or eliminate fishing of the coast from the western end of Paradise Cove to El Matador State Beach spoke out at the session.
Eight volunteers, mostly high school and college students attended the training session. Five outspoken fishing advocates also attended the event. Two students took the bus from UCLA to attend the training session in Malibu. High school students had the option to earn community service hours by participating in the project.
Heal the Bay biologist Dana Murray explained that the program provided an opportunity to involve the public in monitoring the MPA, which is scheduled to be officially established later this year. The volunteers will walk the beach along the proposed MPA and adjacent areas and gather data on beach use.
By starting ahead of the official dedication of the new underwater park, the volunteers will be able to gather several months of baseline data.
Each volunteer received a packet of maps, information on the MPAs, sample survey forms and a bumper sticker that said “My Other State Park Is Underwater.”
A field training session was scheduled for the Saturday following the classroom training. See page 13 for story.
Murray stressed that the volunteers, described by MPA critic Chris Goldblatt as “fish police,” are strictly citizen scientists whose job will be to gather raw data and not enforcers.
“You’re not out there enforcing compliance,” Murray said. “This is unbiased observation. You are out there to collect data.” She added that the volunteers will also provide extra eyes to report injured marine mammals and sea birds.
Murray said that MPAs on the Channel Islands have been successful, encouraging fish stocks to increase, and that Heal the Bay hopes to see similar results off the coast of Malibu. She described the MPA as an “underwater Yosemite.”
“Ninety percent of all large fish are gone,” Murray said. “Globally, the catch is reduced by half…”
“[You’re] talking about virgin stock,” Goldblatt interrupted. “Pre WW II. It’s unsustainable. Essentially impossible. Surfing, SCUBA, kayaking, swimming [will be] negatively impacted by the MPA.”
“The Department of Fish and Game [the agency responsible for overseeing the MPA] doesn’t regulate beach going,” Heal the Bay’s Sarah Sikich replied. “That’s not how the DFG has worked [at the MPAs already established].”
“There are MPAs in 45 nations and territories,” said Murray. “They promote tourism. There are bigger fish, more fish, species diversity.” Murray stated that in the Channel Islands MPAs, established in 2003, the increased fish population was “spilling over” into adjacent areas, improving recreational and commercial fishing prospects.
Sikich added that the Marine Life Protection Act Initiative to develop the network of MPAs along the California coast, involved the input of a wide range of stakeholders.
Goldblatt did not agree. “[It’s an] insult to everybody in the room,” he said.
“People who fish for subsistence, you are getting between people and their need. There’s going to be a lot of resistance. You are destroying a culture that has been in place with caucasians for 100 years, for Native Americans for 7000 years. You should tell your minions,” Goldblatt said.
“There may be a dark side,” another MPA critic said. “MPAs in Guam caused deaths.”
“We’re just collecting data,” Murray interjected.
“You’re exposing spear fishermen to boat strike death,” Goldblatt said. If you support these things you are exposing yourselves to danger,” he told the volunteers.
Jennifer Voccola, the City of Malibu’s Environmental Programs Coordinator, opted to call the sheriff, after making several requests to the fishing advocates for order.
Witnesses indicated that the city employee appeared to overbalance on her high heeled shoes when she went to discuss the matter with Goldblatt.
She stated after the incident that she lost her balance and grabbed at Goldblatt’s shoulder to steady herself.
Goldblatt, however, viewed the incident as an attack, crying out that he had been assaulted, and was in pain.
Goldblatt reported to the Malibu Surfside News that he had filed assault charges with the sheriff’s department against Voccola.
The visit from the sheriff’s deputy restored order to the meeting, but not before several of the volunteers had left.
“This is a pilot program,” Murray said, at the conclusion of the session.“Volunteers will help refine it and shape it. We’ll be collecting baseline data now. Monitoring will continue after implementation. It’s important to get a wide scope.”
“Why are you putting effort into counting people?” asked one of the fishing advocates. “You should be counting fish.”
“Don’t they understand that what we’re doing in gathering data?” Malibu resident Melia Grasska, a high school student who has volunteered for the program, told the Malibu Surfside News after the meeting. “This is data they can use, too. It’s unbiased research.”
Information on the MPA Watch program is available at healthebay.org.

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