Reserve Boundary Creates Confusion for Volunteer Stewards
• Enforcement Is Still a Learning Process for Wardens Charged with Patrolling the New MPAs
BY SUZANNE GULDIMANN
The network of Marine Protected Areas along California's South Coast took years to plan as part of the requirements of the Marine Life Protection Act passed in 1999, the MPAs, including Point Dume State Marine Reserve and State Marine Conservation Area, only went into effect in January of 2012 and the Department of Fish and Game wardens charged with enforcing the new parks' fishing restrictions are still developing their strategies and finding some unexpected challenges.
"The law was just enacted last year. We're still going through education," Lieutenant Rod Buckler, a supervisor for a California DFG warden squad, confirmed. "We do get a lot of calls of boats within the boundary. People want to be good stewards, but it's hard to tell just by looking.
"From shore it's very difficult to determine if the boat you are looking at is in the MPA," Buckler said. "What we are seeing is boats that fish on the line, the geographical boundary. A chip with the boundaries is inserted into the boat's plotter. You can zoom right in to show the boundary. They'll fish within 40-50 feet of the line, which is legal."
Rick Oefinger of Marina Del Rey Sportfishing identified the boat in the photo shown in last week's Malibu Surfside News that was described by Point Dume observers as possibly being within the boundary of the Point Dume SMR.
Oefinger stated that while the—sportfishing charter boat named the Spitfire—may appear to be in Little Dume Cove it is actually fishing outside the Marine Protected Area boundary line. "We would be busted in a minute," Oefinger told The News. "Like it or not, the MPA closures are the law and we are not scofflaws."
Oefinger explained that because the eastern boundary of the Point Dume MPA forms a narrow pie-shaped wedge close to shore, the boat, which he said was fishing adjacent to the protected waters in Little Dume Cove but not on the MPA side of the line, appeared to be within the confines of the MPA
"We have Garmin Chart Plotters with a special chip that shows all of the closed areas. There is no reason why we would cross that line," Oefinger said, adding that the DFG has received numerous calls since the start of bass fishing season off of Point Dume. "We've had fish and game wardens on board. It's not our policy to violate the law," he said, adding that Marina Del Rey Sportfishing frequents the Malibu area year round and that they strictly adhere to all DFG regulations. "There is no reason why we wouldn't," Oefinger said. "This is our life. I've been here since 1970. When we aren't out here with sportfishing parties we are out here whale watching. There are all types of dolphins right now and fin whales. They're really dynamic. It's a bonus."
"Most of the commercial fishing boats are equipped with chips," Buckler told The News. "Many of them participated in the MPA process. They know where the MPAs are. Recreational fishing boats are less likely to have the navigation software."
Buckler said that citations are "totally up to the court," but can result in a stiff fine.
On the commercial side, operators can face fines and a commission review that could result in a revocation of the operator's license.
In May, a Riverside County man was the first person convicted of committing a resource crime in the newly created MPAs.
Marbel A. Para, 30, pled guilty to violating DFG code and received a $20,000 fine and a week in jail. Para and a companion were apprehended in an MPA with 47 California spiney lobsters, according to a DFG press release.
The legal limit for lobster in areas where fishing is allowed is seven. All but five of the lobsters were undersize, according to the release.
To date, no Malibu violations have been prosecuted.