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Over 100 people gathered in Pacific Beach on March 20, for the release of data from a five-year, $4 million study of the state’s South Coast Marine Protection Areas. The study began in 2011 and studied 12 areas of our shoreline’s ecosystem. Creation of these areas closed off recreational fishing in much of the oceanfront in the San Diego area.

Erin Meyer, senior scientist from the Ocean Science Trust, the nonprofit agency assigned to coordinate the data, advised to group, “The purpose of the meeting was not to defeat the MPAs or debate its merits.”

However, several angler groups and charter boat operators had questions. “What exactly are you monitoring?” asked Doug, a crewmember aboard the Black Jack charter boat out of Dana Landing in Mission Bay. The study, from data gathered by Sea Grant California, focused on different phases in 12 areas, including ecosystem, tides, kelp forest, spiny lobster, and sea birds.

“Who is Sea Grant?” asked Steve Mote of Encinitas, a lifelong angler and board member of Coastal Conservation Association.

Sea Grant is an academic organization housed at California’s coastal universities, and funded primarily by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, which worked with about 40 other government agencies and nonprofit organizations in collecting the data.

In the closed-off habitat, where many recreational anglers would like to fish, the study noted, “variability from year to year & site to site is the norm in kelp and shallow rock ecosystems.” So, since 2011, there was really no accurate baseline of the numerous fish species charted in the protected areas.

There was good news. Shad Catarius, a commercial lobster fisherman, was on the study group for the spiny lobster issue. “For the first time, we had scientists and fishermen sitting in the same room. Working together, we found the resource to be much better off than we anticipated. We discovered that female lobsters, once thought to become egg-bearing at 71 millimeters, actually start as small as 50 millimeters. There hadn’t been research since the 1950s.”

The Marine Protection Area data collection is ongoing. But the massive report, released to the public at five meetings held last week from San Diego to Santa Barbara, can be found at OceanSpaces.org/scsotr.

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