©2003 Cascadia Times
Plundering the Pacific
Protecting Our Undersea Yellowstones
Scientists find marine reserves build bigger fish and
produce more young
ever, scientists are seeing great value in protecting networks of
wilderness areas under the sea.
Cascadia Times Fall 2003 issue, "Plundering the
Pacific," investigates the decline of the North Pacfic
Ocean and its wildlife in the wake of decades of industrial
The 24-page print edition contains numerous graphics and full-color
photographs that richly illustrate this report. Please support
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Citizen groups from Baja to the Bering Sea have organized loosely
coordinated campaigns that are putting this new science to work.
Marine Reserves are areas that are completely protected from all
extractive activities. The protections are more stringent than Marine
Conservation Areas, Marine Protected Areas or National Marine Sanctuaries,
which allow at least some taking of fish and other activities.
Biologists have long known that protecting an area of the ocean
can do wonders for the ecosystem. But they weren’t sure whether
marine reserves would also help the economies of fishing communities.
A Florida study found that fish born in marine reserves are caught
hundreds of miles outside of the reserve. This may mean the reserve
is supplying the local fishery. Another study found that a larger
vermilion rockfish off the West Coast produces many more young than
a smaller one. A 23-inch vermilion had 1.5 million offspring, compared
to 150,000 from a 16-inch fish.
“We see a significant increase in the productivity of an
individual fish inside the reserve,” said Elise Granek, an
Oregon State University researcher.
Last fall, the state of California took the first step in establishing
a network of reserves on the West Coast. The state approved reserves
around the Channel Islands off Santa Barbara. All are within the
state’s three-mile territorial waters. A second phase calls
for a corresponding network of reserves in federal waters beyond
the three-mile zone. The reserves provide no-take and partial-take
fishing in specific areas.
A three-year process led to the reserves, including a 17-member
group that met monthly, composed of sport and commercial fishermen,
divers, environmentalists, scientists, and coastal residents.
The reserve leaves more than 80 percent of state waters open for
fishing, with closures spread among the different fisheries that
operate near the islands. Proponents say the network won’t
bring big back depleted rockfish all by itself, but it will help
to improve the dismal situation for Southern California’s
badly depleted rockfish populations.
New efforts to protect marine areas in Oregon and Washington are
not as far along.
In Oregon, marine protected areas are not new. The state's coastal
waters, designated as Oregon's Territorial Sea, are collectively
considered to be a marine protected area. Yet, according to Oregon’s
2000 State of the Environment report, “most marine protected
areas in Oregon... are not designed to protect ecosystems or biodiversity.”
Oregon’s Ocean Policy Advisory Council has delivered recommendations
for action. They include a limited system of marine reserves but
no suggested locations.
In Washington, the Northwest Straits Commission, established by
Congress in 1998, is working with local committees to protect and
restore marine resources and habitats in north Puget Sound. Since
1999, People for Puget Sound, Georgia Strait Alliance, and a coalition
of 20 citizens groups have been working to establish a protected
area in waters shared by British Columbia and Washington state.
Also in British Columbia, Living Oceans and Canadian Parks and
Wildlife are working to protect the world’s largest glass
sponge reef located in Hecate Strait in the Central Coast. The federal
government has known about the reef for a decade but has yet to
In Alaska, the Board of Fisheries established a marine protected
areas committee with members from industry, communities and conservation,
to develop a process for implementing reserves. The committee bogged
down over the basic discussion of, “Why are they needed anyway?”
said Ben Enticknap of the Alaska Marine Conservation Council. The
Board put the whole process on indefinite hold.
The Pacific and North Pacific Fishery Management councils are developing
marine reserve policies. n