Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Will your fishing grounds be designated an MPA?

Tomorrow is the start of a three-day meeting in Anchorage of something called the Marine Protected Areas Federal Advisory Committee.

I'll confess that when I first saw the meeting notice, I said to myself: "What the heck is this?"

So I did a little research.

It seems the 30-member committee has to do with the National System of Marine Protected Areas.

This system includes 225 MPA sites designated around the country following a round of nominations in the fall of 2008.

The list includes four sites in Alaska corresponding to major federal preserves: the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve, and the Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge.

The government has opened a second round of MPA nominations with a deadline of Nov. 6.

So what is an MPA?

"MPAs are areas where natural or cultural resources are given greater protection than in the surrounding waters," the government says. Most allow activities such as fishing, boating and diving. Others, however, are "no take" zones where extraction of fish or other resources is prohibited.

Needless to say, MPAs are a hugely controversial subject in the commercial fishing world. While proponents argue they offer refuge for fish, spinning off greater abundance for fishermen, people trying to make a living from the sea have a hard time abiding a bunch of "Do not enter" signs up and down the coast.

Many people won't know that Alaska already has way more MPAs than those few on the national list. Regulators have restricted many areas around the state to fishing or other activities. For example, all of Southeast Alaska is closed to trawling. And in Western Alaska and out the Aleutians, fishermen can't work for miles around the rookeries of endangered Steller sea lions.

Anyway, it seems wise to keep a close eye on this MPA Federal Advisory Committee, which will meet all day tomorrow through Friday at the Hilton hotel in downtown Anchorage. The meeting is open to the public.

On Wednesday, a panel of experts — including Oceana and Pew environmental campaigners — will talk about MPAs, climate change and "ecosystem resilience."

On Thursday, several federal state and federal officials, plus representatives of a trawl group and oil company Shell, will talk about MPAs in Alaska.

Here's the agenda.

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