MPA Testimony

Testimony of Sherman Baynard on behalf of the Coastal Conservation Association before the Subcommittee on Fisheries, Conservation, Wildlife and Oceans Committee on Resources United States House of Representatives

Posted on October 01, 2001

Good Morning, Chairman Gilcrest and members of the Subcommittee. My name is Sherman Baynard and I am here today on behalf of the Coastal Conservation Association (CCA). CCA is a national organization with some 80,000 members on the Atlantic and Gulf coasts who are concerned about the conservation of marine resources. Today, I would like to address the costs and benefits of using marine protected areas (MPA) to help recover oysters in the Chesapeake Bay. Frankly, we believe that many of the potential benefits of MPAs have been overblown and many of the negative consequences have been overlooked.

Although fishermen have long supported use of time and area closures to protect fish spawning aggregations or juvenile fish populations, CCA’s membership and most of the recreational sector are deeply troubled by the rhetoric being used by some organizations to promote marine protected areas. Statements like 25 percent of the mid-Atlantic ought to be declared off-limits to fishing and 5 percent of marine coastal waters ought to be set aside as ocean wilderness areas have rung the alarm bell in the recreational sector.
The recreational fishing experience depends on two essential ingredients -- access to places to fish and availability of fish at those places. For a number of years, the recreational sector has invested heavily in both ingredients. Recreational fishing taxes have contributed millions of dollars through the Wallop-Breaux program and much of this has been spent to improve angler access to places to fish. Additionally, recreational fishermen have led the fight to conserve America’s marine fisheries -- striped bass, weakfish, redfish and Atlantic shad are all recovering as a result of the efforts of recreational fishermen. We have worked alongside, and inside, the existing State and Federal fishery management systems using all of the traditional fishery management tools - size limits, creel limits, quotas, seasons, and, where appropriate, area closures - to recover our fishery resources from past periods of overexploitation.
The explosion in recreational fishing for these species has more than proved the point that sound conservation coupled with improved opportunities to fish will benefit our coastal economy. To cite just one example, today there is more economic contribution to the Maryland economy from fishing for striped bass than ever before. Expanding angler access is something the recreational sector, local, state and federal officials have been trying to encourage for twenty years. MPAs are unpopular because anglers believe they will be used to restrict their access to the fishery resources and, thus, deny them the benefit of their Wallop-Breaux taxes and their conservation efforts. Before I get to the use of MPAs in the oyster program, let me provide you with some suggestions about how to establish some parameters for the use of MPAs.
First and foremost, Congress needs to define the term. An MPA is defined in Executive Order 13158 to be “any area of the marine environment that has been reserved by Federal, State, territorial, tribal, or local laws or regulations to provide lasting protection for part or all of the natural and cultural resources therein." Under this definition, MPAs will include areas where oil drilling is prohibited, areas where sewage outfalls are prohibited, areas where some fishing is prohibited, areas where all fishing is prohibited, and areas where skin diving is prohibited. In practice, however, it seems that the current effort to establish MPAs is focused almost exclusively on fishing. Some groups have claimed that 20 percent of the fishable area in the US ought to be designated as a marine protected area while others now argue for a 5 percent designation as ocean wildernesses.
Let me suggest some parameters that ought to be discussed in defining the various types of MPAs
Terminology should not be vague – terms like marine parks, marine sanctuaries or marine reserves convey widely different messages to different audiences.
Any MPA should specify up front the activities that will be allowed and those that will not – for our purposes, it should explain exactly what forms of fishing will be allowed and what forms will be prohibited.
Any MPA should specify a purpose that can be supported scientifically – while closed areas may produce more fish at a given location, they may not allow more fish to be harvested from the same ecosystem.
Any MPA should specify its duration – is a closed area to be temporary or permanent?
If we intend MPAs to be permanent wilderness areas, where no activity other than research can take place, then let’s say so. If we intend MPAs to be nothing more than traditional time and area fishery closures, then let’s say so. But, let’s not continue to have this open-ended discussion about something we have failed to define.
After we define the types of MPAs, let’s develop a specific process that must be used before one can be put into place in any marine environment. The process ought to include scientifically valid biological objectives to be achieved through the use of the MPA. A finding should be required that less draconian measures will not achieve the biological objectives. Lastly, there should be a sunset provision to remove the restrictions when the biological objectives have been met.
Now let me address the issue of MPAs in oyster restoration and management.
Millions of dollars has been spent to restore oyster populations in Chesapeake Bay without significant success. Much of the money has come from federal and state taxpayers who support these programs for three reasons. Oyster restoration provides for economic development of the industry, improved water quality in the bay and the natural inclination to return the bay to its full abundance. We support all of these reasons for oyster restoration.
The present problems with oysters in Chesapeake Bay result from disease, poor water quality and over harvesting. There are a number of studies being done by the States of Maryland and Virginia on the disease issue. Work at VIMS developing new strains of disease-resistant oysters looks promising, but so much work in this area over the years has looked promising without producing any results.
The issue of water quality is on the minds of anyone who lives in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Pollutant inputs from urban areas and agriculture have been well documented, but much less is known about how the bay responds to increased pollutant loads. There is no doubt that restoring oyster populations would help restore the bay’s water quality, but an even faster way to improve water quality would be to stop harvesting menhaden on an industrial scale. A five-year moratorium on the harvest of menhaden for fishmeal and oil would have an immediate and quantifiable impact on water quality.
There is also the issue of over-harvest. The States of Maryland and Virginia could easily limit the harvest of oysters and Congress could provide relief funds to the industry to sustain them while the oysters recovered. The key is funding assistance to the industry while the stocks are allowed to recover.
Finally, the possibility of establishing closed areas to rebuild oyster populations should be examined. Temporary MPAs have proven successful in rebuilding scallop populations in New England, but those areas were closed only to bottom trawling and dredging, while all other forms of fishing were allowed to continue.
From what we have heard, however, the MPAs being discussed for Chesapeake Bay do not follow the New England model. We are opposed to the use of MPAs to restore oysters if they would prohibit fishing that has no impact on the recovery of the oysters or the water quality of Chesapeake Bay. We see no benefit from a marine wilderness in the Chesapeake Bay.
Recreational fishermen are ready to conserve and are doing so everyday. This is a community that supports size limits and seasons to protect spawning fish, bag limits to reduce over-harvest, and even limited closed areas when fishing effort needs to be reduced. We have endorsed measures like barbless hooks and complete catch-and-release when they are necessary to rebuild a stock. But, it is simply unacceptable to exclude recreational fishermen from an area without any demonstration that recreational fishing activity is having a negative impact on the resource.
Thank you for the opportunity to testify. I would be pleased to answer any questions.