As politicians continue to debate shark fins in the state capitol, a different fishing issue is making progress. The California Game and Fish Commission last week voted to include the possibility of allowing tribes to subsistence fish in some proposed marine protection areas in Northern California.
"As we promised earlier this year, we have devised a pathway to begin the process to allow tribes on the North Coast to continue ancestral fishing practices in many of the areas most important to them," said Natural Resources Agency Secretary John Laird. "This is an extremely important decision to move the Marine Life Protection Act forward and to show respect for the sovereign tribal nations."
The decision is included in the preferred alternative for a number of proposed marine areas off the coast of Mendocino, Humboldt and Del Norte counties, which is about 250 miles of coastline. If approved, 13% of the waters along and off the so-called North Coast would be protected, instead of the current 2%, according to Ken Wiseman, Executive Director of the Marine Life Protection Act Initiative. The state is responsible for waters up to three miles from the coast.
The majority of proposed protections, about 82 square-miles worth, would become State Marine Conservation Areas where some fishing will be allowed, provided the catch is not a member of the local ecosystem (for example, salmon moving through the area would be okay). The rest of the area, about 51 square miles, would become marine reserves where any fishing whatsoever will be off limits.
Tribes that have historically gathered fish in areas slated to be conservation areas would be allowed to continue the practice.
Wiseman referred to all the protected areas as "underwater wilderness parks" and said recreational activities like swimming, diving and kayaking would still be allowed.
A final vote is expected next spring.