California Turns The Tide On Anglers With Sweeping Fishing Closures

by Forbes Darby

(from Jersey Coast Anglers Association January 2003 Newsletter)

California Governor Gray Davis and the state Fish and Game Commission established the largest network of marine protected areas on the West Coast, banning fishing in 175 square miles of a nationally renowned fishing area in October. The American Sportfishing Association calls these measures extreme, unnecessary, and even contrary to recreation policy related to wilderness on public lands.

Fishing of all kinds will be permanently banned in coastal waters surrounding the Channel Islands off the Santa Barbara Coast after January 1, 2003.   The network could grow to encompass about 400 square miles in the next 2 years depending on forthcoming decisions by federal agencies that manage waters beyond the 3-mile state boundary around the islands. 

 “With Atlantic striped bass, redfish, white seabass, and many other sportfish, anglers have demonstrated their willingness to sacrifice fishing access or technique when it was necessary to recover fish populations,” ASA President and CEO Mike Nussman said.  “What we’re seeing now is the fervor for marine protected areas getting far ahead of the scientific evidence to support these measures.”

ASA is on the forefront of marine conservation, including taking a lead role in developing and continuing to champion the landmark Sustainable Fisheries Amendments of the Magnuson Act, including the first broad measures for ocean fisheries recovery.  ASA President Mike Nussman served from 1994-2000 as recreational commissioner to ICCAT, the multi-national governing body setting recovery benchmarks and management programs for tuna, marlin, swordfish, and other billfish.  Currently ASA’s legal counsel, Bob Hayes, serves as ICCAT commissioner. 

ASA is uniting anglers and conservation organizations in the Freedom to Fish campaign, reflecting a shared commitment to advance marine management programs based on sound science and ensuring angler access when recreational fishing is not jeopardizing fish populations.  In addition to ASA, this group of supporters includes BASS/ESPN, Coastal Conservation Association, International Game Fish Association, Jersey Coast Anglers Association, National Marine Manufacturers Association, Recreational Fisheries Alliance, Sportfishing Association of California, and United Anglers of Southern California. 

Further closures are likely in California and similar efforts are underway in other coastal states including Oregon, Massachusetts, and Florida. 

The American Sportfishing Association leading the effort to get the Freedom to Fish Act reintroduced in Congress early in the new year.  We’re calling on all ASA members and the sportfishing community to support this effort by contacting your member of Congress through our website, www.freedomtofish.org.


Some 2.4 million people fish in California each year, making the Golden State second only to Florida in the number of anglers and their annual expenditures ($2.4 billion).  Closing about a third of southern California’s prime fishing areas is expected to cause $50 million in economic losses from retail sales each year. 


Why we need Freedom to Fish

The Freedom to Fish Act would not preclude the use of marine protected areas in instances where sportfishing is shown to have significant impact on fish populations.  Because science shows this isn’t case in the Channel Islands, conservation-minded anglers are concerned that management decisions that affect their access are being made without consideration for this basic standard.

In addition, the Freedom to Fish Act would require implementation guidelines, defined conservation goals, and monitoring programs as a basis for measuring the effectiveness of any marine protected area.  None of these basic measures are part of the California decision, yet the fishing ban is permanent.

Projects Director Forbes Darby, 703-519-9691 x222, fdarby@asafishing.org, or visit www.freedomtofish.org for more on the Freedom to Fish Campaign.