Dive Dry with Dr. Bill

#142: Irrefutable Proof Marine "Reserves" Work

After completing my day's dives in the Casino Point Dive Park just two weeks ago, I observed something that made my blood boil (no, it wasn't a beautiful "mermaid" in an itsy-bitsy teeny-weeny yellow polka dot bikini). I was ready to write a strongly-worded column lambasting the perpetrators of the actions I observed. There was no question in my mind that "they" deserved it, and I was ready to become an eco-activist again uniting the dive community against commercial day fishing boats. So what happened... and why have I moderated my tone today?

One of the mainland day fishing boats that frequents Catalina waters had pulled up within 25-30 feet of the Dive Park's boundary line. The crew dropped anchor and their paying customers began casting their fishing lines right on top of two wrecks, the glassbottom boat Pisces and one of the sailboats. Were any divers exploring those wrecks, which are well within the Dive Park boundaries as mapped, they would certainly risk being hooked by the fishers above.

This fishing boat had anchored between two of the Dive Park boundary buoys. On top of each buoy was a sign stating it was illegal to anchor within 300 feet of the Park. One of the signs was facing squarely towards the stern of the fishing boat. To make matters worse, the crew of the vessel starting throwing chum into the Dive Park to draw fish towards its boundary where their customers could catch them.

This was not the first time this particular vessel has anchored illegally and fished within 300 feet of the Dive Park. I have observed it for about 15 years both in the Avalon area (including Lover's Cove), and along the leeward coast in reserves like the one at Toyon Bay. Many others including Harbor Department personnel and the glassbottom boat crews have seen this too. I decided this infraction was the last straw as far as I was concerned. Other mainland boats encroach on the "no anchoring" zone outside the Park, but none are as "blatant" in their apparent disregard. I videotaped this vessel for several minutes to document the violation before heading back to the house.

When I returned to my computer, I drafted an e-mail message outlining the infraction. I posted this on two web-based Internet dive sites, and (good places to visit, divers). I also e-mailed it to dive clubs, dive shops and my dive friends in the soCal region. I asked that these diving enthusiasts contact the vessel's owner, the boat's booking agents and the Visitor's Bureau in the city it was based.

Apparently a number of the divers took action. The following day the vessel's captain called the Avalon Harbor Department to clarify what the rules were (thanks, JJ, for doing so). I did find it a bit unusual that a captain operating this boat in the Avalon area for many years was not aware of the city ordinance he had violated. However, I applauded the initiative taken by him in clarifying the situation. Later that day I received a very sincere apology from the captain and an e-mail from the owner. I took the captain at his word and thanked him for acknowledging his error and agreeing not to repeat the violation. I also sent a follow-up to all those I had informed earlier to let them know that an apology had been issued and no further action by divers was necessary.

Although this is not one of my more humorous "Dive Dry" columns, at least it isn't the polemic tirade that it might have been had the captain not acted reasonably and responsibly. I like to believe in the goodness of most human beings, and I hope no further incidents will occur. If not, the fishers can fish and the divers can dive with no further conflict in the vicinity of the Dive Park.

I have not named the vessel since its captain has promised to operate within the law in the future. There is no need to point directly at them if this is the case. The crew wanted to ensure that its paying customers caught as many fish as they could, and disembarked satisfied on "the other side." This is understandable for any business... satisfy the customer to help ensure your future revenue stream. To accomplish this, this vessel (and other mainland boats) have often fished the waters in or adjacent to the Dive Park, Lover's Cove and the few small reserve areas along the island's coastline.

I see something very positive in this. It looks like these fishers, and scientists like myself, agree. Many (but not all!) fishers decry the concept of setting aside a small percentage (10-30%) of the State's coastal waters as "no take" marine reserves where fishing (and possibly diving) would not be allowed. While I don't claim to have the wisdom of King Solomon, I see nothing wrong with taking the legal "sword" and simply dividing the waters 50-50. Half would be for reserves to ensure future stocks of gamefish to maintain healthy ecosystems. This will create a surplus that would spill over into the other half where fishers would have a chance to enjoy their extractive sport.

The fishers often state that there is "no" scientific evidence that such reserves work. I should add there is plenty of evidence, enough to convince the commissioners of several investigative bodies who come from walks of life as diverse as business, the energy industry, the military, fishers and scientists. However, perhaps the best and most irrefutable evidence is the fact that many of these day fishing boats know their customers will catch more fish in areas adjacent to existing reserve areas (whether CDF&G sanctioned or de facto in nature like the Dive Park). My concern is that with such a low number of small reserves currently designated in our State, a full passenger load of some 95 fishers on this particular vessel could easily catch a large number of fish from the protected areas in a single day, quickly depleting them to the same low population densities as in the over-fished areas elsewhere on our coast. Then what would my son or (gulp) grandchildren have to enjoy as divers... or fishers?

NOTE: Not long after this incident the captain of the fishing vessel involved was informed by the Avalon Harbor Department of the rules (which are very obviously posted as can be seen in the images). To this date (nearly three years later) I have not seen further infractions. Thank you to the captain.

© 2005 Dr. Bill Bushing. Watch the "Dive Dry with Dr. Bill" underwater videos on Catalina Cable TV channel 49, 10:00 AM and 5:00 PM weekdays.

(Upper) Commercial day fishing boat anchored well within the 300 foot distance from the dive park...
well within! But no more. (Lower) buoy marking boundary of dive park with
"no anchoring" sign (see arrow), close-up of "no anchoring" sign on buoy

This document maintained by Dr. Bill Bushing.
Material and images © 2005 Star Thrower Educational Multimedia