World Ocean Day Message from Bob Breen

To celebrate World Ocean Day, Deep Sea News is publishing an unsolicited letter from a reader, Bob Breen. We’re thankful that our community is the kind of people willing to share their opinion about respect for the oceans, and we’re pleased to publish your letters.

Giant black sea bass, protected in California since 1982

Giant black sea bass, protected in CA since 1982

On June 8, people all over the world will observe World Oceans Day, celebrating the 70% of our planet that’s covered by salt water. This years’ theme, “One ocean, one climate, one future,” reminds us that the world’s oceans are all connected, and that the choices we make today will have ripple effects for generations to come.

In a changing world, our ocean needs the same sort of protections we have established for important landscapes for decades. The California coast has been called one of the most biodiverse ecosystems in the world, and it should be managed according to standards set by marine scientists. Scientists believe we have to set aside parts of the ocean to ensure it’s long-term health. Like underwater parks, marine protected areas allow marine animals and plants flourish, and help ecosystems absorb the shocks of change. And make no mistake; we are living in a time of change.

Climate change has already arrived on the California coast. During my 40 years as a student and ranger-naturalist at Moss Beach in San Mateo County, California, I saw changes to intertidal plant and animal life firsthand. Warm water species of sea anemone, worms, and barnacles have moved in and cold-water, leafy seaweed have been replaced by algal turf reminiscent of Southern California.

Although many naturalists, fishermen and divers have observed these changes, we don’t entirely understand them. Marine protected areas can help—they provide a window into ocean ecosystems, functioning as underwater laboratories. Francis et al. (2007) describes protected areas as reference sites that can help biologists disentangle the local effects of fishing from the global effects of human activities and account for ecosystem change over time. As our understanding of human impacts on the ocean grows, so will our ability to manage for ecosystem function and resilience.

Aurelia sp. medusa in kelp forest

Medusa flotaing in a kelp forest

Climate change, by definition is a global problem. But addressing it will require an all hands on deck approach. Local protection of key biogenic habitats is a key part of the solution—it will aid in the maintenance of ecosystem function by limiting long-term damage from human activities. It takes political will to implement a scientific, ecosystem-based approach for ocean health, but the need is clear.

In 1969 a small marine protected area was established at Moss Beach. Even then it was controversial, but the results surprised people. Moss Beach soon became a tourist attraction—it drew Bay Area schools for field trips, and visitors from across the country and around the world. Rather than taking something away from the community, it has provided a boost to the local economy.

Now California is working to replicate the success we’ve had at Moss Beach and the Channel Islands by creating a statewide network of marine protected areas through the Marine Life Protection Act. The Act is being implemented through a science-based public process, and is about halfway done. Right now, the Fish and Game Commission is considering plans for a network of protected areas that will stretch from Half Moon Bay to Mendocino.

In early August the Commission will adopt one of the plans that local divers, anglers, surfers, and scientists spent over a year creating. They will look especially closely at one proposal, the Integrated Preferred Alternative (IPA), which is a compromise plan recommended by the Governor’s Blue Ribbon Task Force.

The compromise plan follows scientific guidelines for holistic, risk averse, marine resource management. If enacted by the Fish and Game Commission, the plan will support a more resilient, biodiverse ocean, better equipped for the uncertainties of climate change. And it will help ensure that our kids can enjoy the abundant coastal resources our parents experienced.

As a naturalist, a long-term manager of a marine protected area, and someone who has spent countless volunteer hours helping to map out a plan for a healthy and sustainable ocean, I ask that the Fish and Game Commission adopt the compromise plan for the north central coast. And I ask the community to embrace it as well. It is our legacy and our gift to future generations, who will be able to experience and fish in a healthy ocean thanks to our foresight.

— by Bob Breen, member: North Central Coast Regional Stakeholders Group; California MLPA Initiative and Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary Advisory Council.

Images from the Monterey Bay Aquarium World Ocean Day photo contest at Flickr.


Francis, R.C., Hixon, M. A., Clarke, M. E., Murawski, S. A., & Ralston, S. (2007). Ten commandments for ecosystem based fisheries management. Fisheries, 32, 217-233

Peter Etnoyer (397 Posts)

PhD candidate at Texas A&M University- Corpus Christi and doctoral fellow Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies.

14 Replies to “World Ocean Day Message from Bob Breen”

  1. If the MLPA were being set up “to protect Marine Habbitats” all involved would be on board. The fact of the matter is, this is an anti-fishing land grab. As a marine biologist myself, I can tell you
    limiting fishing will not keep warm water organisms from moving north (global warming), won’t keep the more fragile organisms from dying (polution), and it won’t bring back kelp and other aquotic plants that have disappeared from so much of our coast(because the places that need the most help, arent being considered for the MLPA). Lets call the current MLPA process what it is, an un-scientific land grab.
    If you disagree, show me anywhere in the MLPA process where my concerns are being addressed! MLPA, great in concept but a concept that has been hijacked by people with other interests. Just follow the money….

  2. Dr. More Lies,

    As a marine biologist, you know as well as anyone that its often the “one-two punch” that will drive a marine species towards endangerment. That is, the most serious problems occur when a population is already weakened (e.g. by disease or overfishing) and something else comes along to take them out (e.g. pollution, storms, short term warming). So, I respectfully disagree that MPAs will not help.

    I cannot show you where in the MLPA process that your concerns are being addressed (I left SoCal as this was getting going), but I can show you the science. You’re right that marine protected areas cannot protect species from climate change, but they CAN make species more resilient to change, and they CAN protect species from pollution once the source is identified. Biomass overflow is also well documented.

    It seems to me like MPAs are the best available, most effective, least cost solution. I know its contentious, change is always hard. Its not clear from you, though. Are you proposing an alternative? Or just griping?

  3. Bottom line is this. The money that is being spent on the MLPA is not money well spent. That money would be better spent on habitat restoration like the wetland restoration in Hunting Beach, or the kelp project PG&E is doing below the power plant.

    Folks like you keep throwing out the endangered species phrase and over fishing, ALL OF IT, is always the culprit. This is nothing more than a scare tactic and completely false. Cause and effect with endangered species is almost always specific. You will not hear me defend the practices of the commercial guys; they are on the water to make money. The fact of the matter is that recreational fisherman account for less that 3% of total take of biomass from our oceans. The commercial guys take 97%. So this is really about fisheries management, not about protecting and restoring habitat. And as a marine biologist I know this game. You shut down coast, and someone has to monitor it. So that means we have to give grants from now until the end of time to UCSB and Cal State Monterey Bay so they can make up more BS like “larval transport” and tell us we need to shut down more of the coast. Then we can give them more grants and so on and so forth.

    Recreational fishermen have been and will continue to be the best friend of our oceans. They were the ones who led the charge against the ridiculous practices of the commercial guys and polluters in the late 70’s and early 80’s. When we biologists go out to do our ocean studies, we hitch a ride with a fisherman because they nowhere to take us. So you take the recreational fisherman off the water with a half-baked scheme to protect the oceans, who is going to be left to protect it? Do you really think there is going to be an increase in scuba diving all the sudden just because we rope off a slice of our coast and call in a protected area?

    It makes me sick to think the enviros and recreational fisherman are going at it, when everyone wants the same thing. Everyone needs to have a stake in the restoration. Everyone needs to see the results. Letting the recreational guys take part in tag and release monitoring program would make 80% of them happy and it will give a huge amount of data we need to go about the business of making real decisions about our ocean. It gives them a part, and it will let them see if the MLPA’s work or not. If inclusiveness is not reached, MLPA’s or not the destruction will continue only at a higher level.

  4. I can’t believe the utter propaganda being used in this letter!

    “In 1969 a small marine protected area was established at Moss Beach. Even then it was controversial, but the results surprised people. Moss Beach soon became a tourist attraction—it drew Bay Area schools for field trips, and visitors from across the country and around the world.”

    I live in Dana Point and we have a tidal zone protected area that draws crowds of people and children on field trips. But the MLPA is proposing a complete ban on fishing in Dana Point and through out California. That will do nothing but damage our economy and lives.

    Children on field trips never venture underwater. They walk on the shore. So in no way would the underwater closures bring more children to beaches. You are lying to the public. I can accept the ecological benefit of banning fishing but I will never accept the utter lies that this will benefit California.

    Fishing has zero impact on what people do above water.

    These MLPA closures are an economic and social curse to every fisherman and the coastal business of California.

  5. Least cost solution!? The MLPA closures are projected to cost California $40 million a year to maintain. And fish and game wardens are already struggling with the budget cuts, 220 state parks are being put on the chopping block, and the real truth is that MLPA closures will cost tens of millions of dollars. Money that California doesn’t have.

  6. I agree with you ML, that recreational fishermen are (or could be) the best friend on the oceans. But, would they would support maximum size limits? Large fish have exponentially more eggs than small fish, so to sustain the fishery you would want to release those big ones. Frankly I would be willing to give up some protected areas for that kind of deal.

    I’m tossing you a bone on this one, More Lies, because I don’t hear any of those kind of alternatives coming from you guys. Until you get it together to put some alternatives on the table you’ll continue to be marginalized. That’s just the way it is. It may be too late for this battle, though.

    I’m sorry you feel like you’re being locked out of your fishing grounds. I sympathize with recreational fishers, really I do, because fishermen are out on the water more than most anyone. But, I listen to the old timers who tell me the big fish are all gone. Check this link and tell me what you think:

  7. Sure commercial fisheries may take 97% of biomass (I’ll accept and use your figure), but biomass is not the only, and in many ways not the most important, measurement. I doubt I will change your mind about anything, since I am not a marine biologist (yet), but I do want to point out that there is strong evidence that recreational fisheries do have a significant impact, on inshore species especially:

    For 17 nearshore fish species, we compared landings by recreational anglers and commercial harvesters and found that, for 16 species, recreational angling was the primary source of fishing mortality. We illustrate the potential damaging effects of mortality associated with catch-and-release programs on long-lived fish populations. Based on this information, we recommend that legislators and natural resource managers reject the assumption that recreational fishing is a low or no impact activity until specific studies can demonstrate otherwise.

    from Schroeder and Love. (2002) Recreational fishing and marine fish populations in California. California Cooperative Oceanic Fisheries Investigations Report pp. 182-190
    Also see (among many others)
    Coleman et al. (2004) The Impact of United States Recreational Fisheries on Marine Fish Populations. Science vol. 305 (5692) pp. 1958-1960
    Cook and Cowx (2004) The Role of Recreational Fishing in Global Fish Crises. BioScience, Vol. 54, No. 9, Pages 857–859
    Lewin et al. (2006) Documented and Potential Biological Impacts of Recreational Fishing: Insights for Management and Conservation. Reviews in Fisheries Science vol. 14 (4) pp. 305-367

    BS like “larval transport” Really?
    I mean Really?!
    The dynamics of the California coast are absolutely amazing and, thanks in large part to the CalCOFI program and institutes like those at Monterey Bay, fairly well documented. Part of the documentation is how changing wind, current and upwelling fronts can radically change the larval distribution, recruitment and survival of some economically and ecologically important species of fish and inverts. I would suggest a perusal of the CalCOFI annual reports from the past 30 years for more details. If you are seriously interested I have a collection of papers on larval distribution, transport and recruitment. 15 alone on sardine larvae on the California coast. Some for a start:

    Lluch-Belda et al. (1991) Sardine and Anchovy Spawning As Related to Temperature and Upwell in the California Current System. Cali. Coop. Oceanic. Fish. Invest. Rep vol. 32 pp. 105-111
    Logerwell and Smith. (2001) Mesoscale eddies and survival of late stage Pacific sardine(Sardinops sagax) larvae. Fisheries Oceanography vol. 10 (1) pp. 13-25
    Diehl, Toonen and Botsford (2007) Spatial variability of recruitment in the sand crab Emerita analoga throughout California in relation to wind-driven currents. Marine Ecology Progress Series vol. 350 pp. 1-17

  8. Peter,

    There relealy is no “you guys” in this debate, or at least I’m not one of them. I am on your side to Peter. That is the problem whith this whole process. There is a middle ground, but it feels like this is being played on a lopsided field. From where I am sitting, the wrong people and wrong activities are being scape goated. There are much bigger dangers where are ocean is concerned, than sport fisherman. The recreational guys in S. California are feeling so left out of this process they are already talking about descending on the MPA’s, 50 to 100 boats strong tying off together and fishing at the different locations in protest. More than anything, this is an education issue. We have a responsiblity to talk to people, not at them.

    Let me take of my science cap and put on my fishing cap. I can tell you that in the last three years, I have seen with my own eyes 3 Calico Bass over 16 pounds caught. If you look in the state record books, the record for Calico Bass still stands at 14 pounds and some change, and its been there for more than three years. All three of those fish were let go IN A HURRY (Similar stories with Sheephead)! The proposal that the UASC submitted draws a line around Catalina, and it is slot limit central (over 12” under 16” or something like that). I personally think the DFG is off their rocker with the limits that are allowed currently (10 bass, 10 Sheeps, 10 pelagics,ect) and on and on for one angler per day. I myself won’t take a fish unless it’s getting cooked that day. To make a long story short I think 80% of the rec guys would be okay with tossing a big fish back. Again its and education and fisheries management issue and MPA’s wont solve that. The sport fishing organizations (IGFA, PSO, UASC, ect) the ones that are being demonized in this process buy our colleagues are largely responsible for this education.

    The article you reference is true for most fish. I think the California records for game fish tell the same story. One thing I will say is that the commercial guys have devastated our coast. Since the netting has stopped, the game fishing in S. Cal has had a spectacular comeback. White Sea Bass are no longer rare, and I haven’t seen one in 8 years, quite a few of the sport boats have hooked and released several Black Sea Bass in the past 12 months. The yellow-fin are as big and as numerous as I’ve seen them in years. But there certainly is no argument here, it is not good as it used to be.

    Eric – No one fishes for sardines(only commercial). Sardines do not have small home ranges. The majority of game fish do. So when you try and interject larval transport and use sardines as an example, and use that theory to calculate MPA spacing guidelines, what you are really saying to rec guys is, we are keeping all your fish. The goal should be more and bigger fish, not bigger fish in one area. Secondly about fish mortality, I bet that study was done mostly on deep Rockfish…no doubt, otherwise I don’t buy it. I think we all know that Rockfish fall outside the normal management techniques and mortality rates. Perhaps thats is what an MPA’s should be used for. I was actually surprised Peter was okay with catch and release since the majority of the fish up there are deep ;-)

  9. More Lies –
    I was not interjecting using larval transport. Sorry if I seemed to imply that it is in any way all about sardines. It isn’t, but sardine larvae have been a major research subject, and one I am familiar with due to research projects I was involved with. There are also studies on the Sebastes, sheepshead and others. I was only responding to what I viewed as a wreckless statement in your original comment (i.e. “hat means we have to give grants from now until the end of time to UCSB and Cal State Monterey Bay so they can make up more BS like “larval transport” and tell us we need to shut down more of the coast.”)

    But to return so the common ground, I agree with you completely, this is a matter that requires education and inclusion.

  10. Commercial fishermen seem to have a hard time getting organized in these (MPA) situations, being such an independent bunch. I wouldn’t be surprised if the same goes for recreational. Its unfortunate that fishermen sidelined. We have a common interest, we all want more fish in the sea.

  11. To Bob Breen, I don’t know if you remember me, but I was going to college at San Jose State and living in Half Moon Bay, studying the tidepools. I found, photograph, drew pictures and described the wonderful, myriad specimens available to be seen at low tides at the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve, when you were working there back in 1976. Those were some of the most interesting and happiest days of my life! I have always wondered how things were going, and was very happy to read that the area is still being looked after, due in large part to your efforts for the past 40 years! I’m heading over to “Friend of the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve” right now to see what’s been going on.

    Thanks for your World Ocean Day notice above and I will do all I can to help. I still have some excellent books on the Pacific Coast tidepools that I would like to donate to anyone who asks. I live in North Carolina now, for many years, and also live part time at Lake Atitlan, Guatemala, so hope these books can continue to have a useful and inspiring life with those that appreciate our natural world the most. Anyone can write me at CatherineTodd2 at gmail dot com. Thanks for everything, Bob… here’s hoping you get this message!

  12. PS: I forgot to list my maiden name back then, Katie Scheffelin. It’s now “Catherine Todd” but I’m still the same! I was at SJSU from 1976 to 1978, probably, and down at the tidepools around that time.

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