Flash: Freedom Act Adopted

Believe it or not, there’s a new law on the books providing for…

“Public access…to marine protected areas, for recreational use.”

Unknown to virtually all of us Easterners, and most Westerners for that matter, those crucial words recently were signed into law by the Gubernator as part of a new California Ocean Protection Act.

The statute becomes, in effect, the nation’s first “Freedom to Fish” law, giving a priority to non-commercial fishing. It specifically provides for recreational angling in marine protected areas.

This is big.

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed the protection act (SB 1319) for California coastal waters after the United Anglers successfully persuaded legislators to include the key words calling for recreational fishing in marine protected areas.

Although it pertains to one state, the concept of singling out family-level angling as different from large-scale commercial takes should be applied to Freedom (or Right) to Fish proposals in Congress and in other states. (We’re suggesting, certainly, that Florida officials adopt similar provisions.)

Thus far, two other states and a pending federal bill have danced around the key point of preserving non-commercial fishing. It may be hoped that California’s act will be a catalyst for plain-talk action.

All of which takes me back a quick 15 years to a day when a two-paragraph, buried news item caught my eye. It reported that California citizens had just voted to ban commercial gill nets over there. Wow, I thought.

That ban, ignored in the east, led to Florida Sportsman’s proposal to rid our own waters of the sweeping gill nets. State officials promptly rejected all of our pleas to prohibit gill nets. The state’s continual failures resulted in the citizen initiative adopted in 1994 by a 72 percent vote of Floridians after a long, tumultuous campaign.

Now, this new California law provides an additional template.

By the way, United Anglers and other Californians deserve high praise on several other fronts. Commercial longlines have now been banned out to 200 miles. (Why not for Florida’s Gulf?) And most bottom trawls are banned. For dessert, the millionth hatchery-raised white seabass (large ones grown through civic efforts) was released, a proven success story.

“It was a great year for us,” said UA’s Tom Raftican, “but there’s plenty more to do and we hope these gains will spread nationally.”

Possibly, just possibly, the “mo” is turning against the total-no-take approach promoting huge marine reserves that lo­ck everyone out regardless of causes of perceived problems. In our view, a handful of biologists went off half-cocked by wanting to ban family-level, non-commercial angling in large areas where limited catches have nothing to do with depletions.

While we have little or no objection to reasonably small closures on, for example, a particular fragile coral formation, we find no justification to wipe out limited angling in zones hundreds of miles in size.

Better by far to provide for public access as in the California action. We should also emphasize that the same new law calls for solid science “and public participation in decision making.”

Public participation.

It’s not coincidence that the total-no-take zones imposed against the public so far have been done so without specific approval by either elected officials or the public. In either arena, they’d be soundly rejected.