Enviro Surveillance Targets Anglers



One of the great aspects of fishing is escaping the madness of life, focusing on our love of the water and its myriad creatures, sharing privately with family and friends, while also hoping to catch a fish.

But now it seems that California environmentalists - the groups that have already engineered recreational fishing closures along prime areas of the state's coastline - are also bent on destroying our tranquility and personal freedoms.

It's all part of an intrusive surveillance program called "MPA Watch," a joint effort between environmental groups to police the controversial new Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) along the populous southern California coast.

With the state of California's current financial woes, enforcement of fishing restrictions in the MPAs is definitely a challenge. So, environmental groups such as Heal the Bay (healthebay.org), Santa Monica Baykeeper (www.smbaykeeper.org) and Orange Country Coastkeeper (www.coastkeeper.org) have formed MPA Watch to monitor fishermen and others.

With California Department of Fish and Game (DFG) wardens spread thin, MPA Watch volunteers will be keeping their eyes boating and fishing activity along the state's south coast. The surveillance will take place from land, sea and even air.

"It's really educational in nature," said Liz Crosson, executive director of Santa Monica Baykeeper (www.smbaykeeper.org), an enviro group focused on the Los Angeles County coast. "Volunteers will observe MPAs, and try to distribute information to boaters and fishermen."

"Volunteers won't approach a boat unless they are agreeable," she said. "We can do that over the radio.

"We plan to distribute information packets and maps on the MPAs," she added. "But if we see continuing violations, we will report violators to the DFG."

Most California anglers bristle at the notion of such Orwellian behavior, particularly by groups that have displayed strong anti-angling sentiments.

"We respect the law and, unfortunately, these people are within their legal rights to watch us," said John Gaebel, chairman of United Anglers of Southern California (www.unitedanglers.com).

"However, their volunteers should not approach boats" he added. "That just creates the potential for unnecessary confrontations."

Indeed, today there is just too much animosity between California anglers and environmental groups, and MPA Watch volunteers need to know that. So I am in agreement with Gaebel. Let them watch, but don't interfere.

In fact, let them watch very closely.

Let them watch as we anglers become true participants in nature, not just armchair observers of it from afar.

Let them watch us as we catch and release fish, showing our true respect for the ocean's natural resources.

Let them watch as parents and kids fish, talk, laugh and strengthen the timeless, sacred bonds of family.

Let them watch and perhaps learn that recreational fishermen are not blood-thirsty monsters, but rather true conservationists - the first conservationists - who love the ocean and its creatures more than any environmentalist can imagine.

But they dare not tread any further on the sport that I truly love, the sport that has become my life. The California environmentalists' agenda has already gone too far, and I will view any attempt by an MPA Watch volunteer to approach my boat as an affront to my personal freedoms.

They can watch, but please steer clear.

UASC and the Partnership for Sustainable Oceans (www.keepamericafishing.org) are continuing the fight in court against the unreasonable and, some say, unlawful fishing closures along the California coast. To learn how you can help, visit www.savecafishing.org.