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California Bans, Restricts Fishing in Marine Areas

Fishermen with a full load of crustaceans caught in the Pacific Ocean off the California coast begin to unload their haul in San Francisco, January 2011

California is implementing a plan to ban or restrict fishing in many of the state's marine areas. The state is rolling out the plan in segments, dividing the coastline into four areas, plus a fifth covering San Francisco Bay.

It is crab season on the west coast of the United States, and at the end of a long day, fishing boats loaded with crustaceans are heading back to San Francisco from the Pacific Ocean.

It was a good day for Ed Tavasieff. He pulled in 390 kilos of Dungeness crab from his pots outside the Golden Gate. Tavasieff said he is worried that California’s new plan for ocean sanctuaries will soon reduce his catch.

"You get to a point where you say, 'Is this fishery viable any longer? Is it worth it for me to go out and catch a handful of fish?'"

In numerous areas off the California coast, the plan for sanctuaries will either limit the take, or make fishing completely off-limits. Environmentalists say these Marine Protected Areas are essential because of over-fishing, coastal development, pollution and climate change. The United Natons' Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that more than 70 percent of the world’s fish species are either fully exploited or depleted.

California sees itself as a leader in the global effort to protect marine life.

Ken Wiseman, executive director of the California Marine Life Protection Act Initiative, said "There are big reserves and there are specific ones in Florida or in New Zealand, but never before have we done an entire network, where the whole state is connected along all 1,200 miles of the coastline and that's the real uniqueness of this. And I think it's going to it's going to really set a trend and have a healthier ocean."

Game wardens will enforce the fishing restrictions for the cash-strapped state. No signs or buoys will be placed on the surface of the ocean to mark the boundaries. Fishermen and others will need to read published notices and use GPS to stay out of the protected areas. The fish won’t need technology.

Biologist Steven Weisberg from the California Ocean Protection Council, said " ...After a while the fish actually figure out where the boundaries are and you actually see them maintaining themselves within boundaries."

And as California fishermen prepare to move on to other sites, scientists plan to monitor the safe havens to see how effective they are - allowing marine life to thrive and reproduce, and restoring health to the ocean.