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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Santa Catalina Island: Reclaiming a National Treasure. A Report to The Ralph M. Parson’s Foundation

  • Author(s): Parnell, Ed;
  • Miller, Kathy Ann;
  • Dayton, Paul K
  • et al.

The island of Catalina off southern California has been fished recreationally and commercially for over a century. The marine resources of this popular destination are under increasing pressure as the population of southern California expands rapidly. The effects of this pressure have been dramatic for many marine species off Catalina. Clearly, the marine resources on Catalina are limited while human population growth does not appear to be limited in the near future. Therefore, improved management of the marine resources off Catalina is critical. Improved management consists of adaptively changing traditional management practices such as limiting effort, closing species to fishing, limiting sizes that can be taken, etc. However, a new approach to protecting marine resources and rebuilding fisheries is the use of protected areas where fishing is limited or prohibited. Marine protected areas (MPAs) are an increasingly popular though controversial tool for the management of exploited species and marine ecosystems. The California Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) was signed into law in 1999. The MLPA called for the establishment of a network of marine protected areas throughout the state to help rebuild depleted fisheries, enhance recreational activities, protect marine habitats, and conserve biodiversity. The design of marine reserves is complex because many ecological factors must be taken into account to design effective reserve networks. The purpose of this report is to provide information useful for the design of MPAs off Catalina. Here we, (1) review the efficacy and current science of MPAs, (2) present some of the historical changes to marine resources at Catalina, (3) list and discuss current MPAs off Catalina, (4) discuss ecological criteria for the design of a network of MPAs off Catalina, (5) recommend a specific network of MPAs for Catalina, and (6) recommend future research that would aid the design and monitoring of MPAs off Catalina. There are currently several protected areas off Catalina. The current reserves that limit or exclude fishing, with one exception, are too small to effectively enhance fishery resources, a primary goal of marine protected areas. The goals, governance, and degree of protection vary considerably among these MPAs. Currently, there is no overarching governance or management. Overarching management and governance is needed not only at the scale of Catalina Island but also at the larger scales that are required for MPA networks to achieve the goals of enhancing resources and preserving biodiversity. We recommend such oversight and governance for any network of reserves established at Catalina, recognizing that the MPA network should be considered as a single collective unit for achieving conservation and protection goals. Therefore, we recommend the establishment of an oversight authority in the form of a panel composed of local stakeholders, scientists, and members of state and federal agencies that govern MPAs at larger scales. The panel should be responsible for monitoring the network, gauging its effectiveness, and fine tuning the network as necessary. The panel should also consider the utility of traditional fishery management practices in combination with marine protected areas. We recommend the following actions for the protection of marine resources at Catalina: (1) All of the state waters off Catalina should be designated as an Area of Special Biological Significance to protect water quality throughout the Island. (2) All of the state waters off Catalina should be established as a State Marine Conservation Area. This status permits selected commercial and recreational fishing and establishes the governance to restrict activities that compromise the protection of vulnerable species, communities, habitats or geological features. Nested within this State Conservation Area we recommend the establishment of State Marine Parks and State Marine Reserves to provide higher levels of protection to specific communities and habitats. (3) The front-side of Catalina from Land’s End to Church Rock should be established as a State Marine Park. State Marine Park status protects this area from commercial fishing. (4) Five State Marine Reserves should be established off Catalina. State Marine Reserve Status prohibits extraction of all plants and animals as well as geological and archeological artifacts. Two of these reserves are expansions of current ‘notake’ marine reserves while the rest are new. The State Marine Reserves should extend to either the 100-meter contour or 1.5 nautical miles offshore, whichever is greater. (5) The current boundaries of the Farnsworth Bank reserve should remain unchanged and the area should be established as a State Marine Park to exclude commercial fishing activities. (6) The market squid fishery off Catalina should be limited to vessels based solely in California. (7) The use of all longlines and nets, with the exception of purse seine nets specifically used for squid and baitfish, should be permanently banned in all state waters off Catalina. (8) Current traditional statewide commercial and recreational fishing regulations (e.g., seasonal, size, bag limits, groundfish closures, closed species) should not be changed for state waters off Catalina.

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