Consumptive breath hold spearfisherman have been deeply engaged in the implementation of the south coast marine life protection act (MLPA) throughout its history. Modern breath hold spearfishing (also known as freediving) is a unique marine fishing activity that has become increasingly popular in the United States. Within the spearfishing community of Southern California exists an intricate web of communities and clubs that promote stewardship, coastal responsibility and DGF enforcement.
During the south coast MLPA initiative the Science Advisory Team (SAT) included certain finfish species Yellowtail, White Seabass, and members of the tuna family referred in this document as pelagic game fish (PG) , to be protected in all State Marine Reserves (SMR) and no take State Marine Conservation Areas (SMCA).
The South Coast SAT also ruled that Pelagic Gamefish are finfish species that are unlikely to benefit whatsoever from marine protection under the MLPA . Pelagic gamefish (PG) are a resource unique to the south coast MLPA bioregion. PG have a wide foraging range and are only found transiently and with great inconsistency within any specific coastal reach. It is also quite impossible to study the relative biomass or change in biomass of PG inside an MPA because these animals are rarely seen on conventional SCUBA equipment. Based on the fact that PG will not benefit from MPA protection and it is impossible to monitor their numbers inside an MPA, the only rational that prevents extractive activity under the stated purpose of the MLPA is thus to prevent the remote possibility of accidental take (by-catch) of a species likely to benefit from protection.
The technique of PG extraction by means of breath hold spearfishing is associated with a zero percentage of by catch as these finfish species are uniquely set apart in their size, coloration and location in the underwater environment. The spearfishing community that actively peruses PG makes up a very small percentage of the total spearfishing user group because of the very high fishing effort to take ratio. Although it is the aspiration of every entry level spearfisherman to land a PG, the attainment of this goal takes persistent dedication, a financial investment in proper equipment and mentorship that often comes from dive club affiliation. Along the Southern California bight there are a limited number of locations that allow the spearfisherman the opportunity to take a PG.
Freedivers in pursuit of PG access the marine environment in ways that are different from other diving related activities. Coastal access is a crucial part of the questions that the MLPA brings up. Many locations in southern California have terrain that is difficult to access. There are very few areas along the coast that can offer a shore based diver the opportunity to spearfish a pelagic game fish such as yellow tail. Many of these locations (Pt Dume, Pt Vicente, and La Jolla) will become SMR's or no take SMCA's. This disenfranchises a very small user group which has absolutely no impact on the fishery, the resource, or the success of an MPA. Therefore this qualifies as a severe environmental injustice and loss of cultural resource. A major DFG feasibility issue has to do with transit through an SMR with a PG to exit the beach. Many coastal divers cover large areas of the ocean and swim out into swift currents. As the population in southern California increases the number of boaters does as well. Every year there are fatal accidents related to negligent boating techniques. Many boaters do not adhere by safe practice of staying greater than 100 yards from a dive flag and many boaters negligently motor directly through kelp beds at high speeds completely oblivious to the freediver. It is now feared that overcrowding of the coastal resource by SMR closures will lead to greater boat vs diver accidents.
Other reasons to allow a pelagic gamefish exclusion for freedivers include
a. In select areas of Southern California, breath hold spear fisherman are among the few that access the rugged coastal terrain and as such are among the few coastal stewards who care for the near shore environment. The individuals that are represented by the Watermen’s Alliance and freediving clubs teach responsible ethics and stewardship to the membership. Shore based freedivers pick up coastal trash, haul out underwater marine debris including ghost traps which restores the natural habitat and benefits the environment. Closing these areas will negatively impact these restoration activities
b. Spearfisherman along the coast actively patrol the areas they dive and offer a service to the state by helping to enforce DFG rules.
c. Collection of white seabass data- the Ocean Resources
Enhancement and Hatchery Program (OREHP) has been releasing juvinile WSB for over a decade and collecting essential scientific data from recreational fisherman sending in scientifically tagged WSB heads. Spearfiserman provide a essential service to the scientific data collection process which will be eliminated by no take marine areas.
d. Divers access fishing from a limited number of coastal locations many access points will be within the bounds of an SMR which creates a DFG feasibility and enforcement conflict as does the fact that divers swimming through an SMR to access a safe exit route on shore create confusion to F&G when carrying pelagic game fish lawfully taken outside the SMR boundary. The exclusion would resolve this enforcement conflict