(photo by Sean Fitz-gerald)

MARINA DEL REY —It’s an overcast Saturday and a recreational fishing boat is anchored in the Point Dume Marine Protected Area. Two men are on board, both with lines in the water.

As of Jan. 1, 2012, a series of new MPAs — areas of the ocean that prohibit fishing in order to protect marine life and habitats —were created off Malibu’s Point Dume, Palos Verdes Peninsula’s Point Vicente and Catalina Island.

Michael Quill, Brian Meux and Karen Yoshida are studying the two fishermen intently from their own boat, a 24-foot 1976 Radon research vessel.

“Try to be non-threatening,” Meux says.

“See, these guys just look like they don’t know,” Quill says to Yoshida. “We’re just going to drive by and say, ‘Hey.’”

“We’re going to be as nice as possible and tell them about the area,” Meux says. “Because there’s spearfishing allowed in this MPA but no line fishing.”

Quill scoots their boat about 200 yards from the fishermen. He leans starboard out the boat and cups his right hand to project his voice across the open water.

“Hey guys!” Quill says. “There’s no fishing here. They’ve made this no-fishing. You got to go to Point Dume.”

“Where? Here?” one of the fishermen yells back, waving his hand over the water.

“Yeah, since January,” Quill says. “Go just beyond Point Dume, around into Paradise Cove or past El Matador down there —that building down there at El Matador—and then you’re good.”

The two fishermen nod their heads and reel their lines in.

“Right on,” Quill says. “Thank you so much.”

Quill, 56, is the MPA outreach coordinator for the Santa Monica Baykeeper, a nonprofit dedicated to protecting and restoring the Santa Monica Bay, San Pedro Bay and adjacent waters.

Quill is wearing a black, crew-neck sweatshirt, Maui Jim sunglasses, a yellow undershirt and black jeans. He has white hair with vestiges of yellow and he stands with a wiry frame at a towering 6-foot-6.

Along for the ride are Meux, 34, and Yoshida, 60. Meux is the marine programs manager for Santa Monica Baykeeper and Yoshida is a paralegal from South Pasadena volunteering to help out with the MPA watch.

“Michael, nice job,” Meux says.

“I learn from the best, Meuxy.”

“That is our exact target of our outreach on the water,” Meux says. “We all try to be unassuming, non-confrontational —from a faraway distance —and try to help [fishermen] so they don’t get hit by a warden ticket.”

“Ah man, that would blow their summer,” Quill says.

If caught, MPA violators are either fined a variant sum of money or assigned jail time.

Quill, Meux and local volunteers like Yoshida collaborate to note boating activities in and around the MPAs and to make sure local fishermen are aware of the new laws.

For Quill and Meux, there’s no science to community outreach, as they say their practice is constantly evolving.

As outreach coordinator, Quill says his main priority is educating and informing recreational anglers.

“I ask [the fishermen] what they want instead of telling them what to do,” he says. “These guys know more than I do in terms of fishing, in terms of the ocean, in terms of being on the water.”

On a typical morning, the two meet at Tahiti Way, where their boat is docked, and they hit the water at 8:30 a.m. sharp. Quill alights at a fueling pit stop to drop off some maps at a nearby convenience store.

“The maps have become the gateway,” Quill says. “They really have helped. It’s interesting because the MPAs were such a divisive thing, but they can now bring the community together to discuss and start planning … rather than fighting.”

Quill’s maps depict a portion of the California coast line and the Pacific Ocean —specifically the area from Leo Carrillo State Beach down to Long Beach, where there are four main MPAs: the Point Dume SMCA and State Marine Reserve and the Point Vicente “no-take” SMCA and Abalone Cove SMCA.

The MPAs have different designations: SMRs and no-take SMCAs prohibit fishing and harvesting of all marine resources while regular SMCAs permit spearfishing of pelagic finsfish, Pacific bonito and white seabass.

“[MPAs are] like creating a national park, where these fish —a lot of them are very territorial —will stay in this protected area and they will start reproducing more because they aren’t being fished out,” Quill says.

If working MPAs are close enough, Quill says spill-over can occur, in which surpluses of marine life will travel from one MPA to another.

“That’s the theory: We’ll have more fish to fish, and the more fish that stay in the MPAs will generate more fish outside the MPAs,” he says. “We’re not here to be the enforcement or the authority, we’re just trying to get the community involved in maintaining and taking care of the habitat.”

It’s 9:16 a.m. and Meux, Quill and Yoshida are logging the Radon into the open ocean at 20 knots. There’s a 2-3 foot western swell coming in with light chop, but it feels like they’re hammering the boat into the water like a wooden roller coaster —everybody on board is jerking like dancers in a frenetic waltz.

Meux says it’s the guys who don’t use their boats frequently that are usually not aware of the new regulations —making them susceptible to fines and tickets.

“If guys are fishing in the MPAs, it’s not protection,” he says. “We’re on this ecological decline right now — with a lot of species — and … a lot more people need to hear about it.”

Meux’s passion for and understanding of marine biology are beyond his years; he’s a big guy —a 6-foot-4, former rugby player from Berkeley, Calif., where he studied integrative biology — with short orange hair and a goatee that ruddies his chin and lower lip. Driving the boat, Meux stands with one hand on the wheel and the other on the stick; he’s wearing a blue cap emblazoned with the SMBK insignia, a striped shirt and jeans and is explaining the trifecta of recovery to Yoshida.

“This is what you do in declines,” he says. “You set little protected areas aside … and it’s just part of the recipe for recovery — the other part is knowing your seafood and well-managed fisheries.”

Though groups like SMBK are proponents of the MPAs, some fishermen have expressed dissatisfaction with the new laws.

Larry Brown, a member of the Marina del Rey Anglers Fishing Club, says that the closures have been devastating to the California sport industry and that private boat anglers and sport fishing boats have lost most of their prime fishing spots.

Brown spoke as an individual on the matter because his fishing club has not formed a collective opinion on the issue.

“If you’re a fisherman, you just want to fish,” Brown says. “If you wanted to go on a boat ride, you’d be in a sailing club.”

As an experienced angler who spends more than 80 days of the year on the water, Brown also noted that tackle shops and sport fishing boats have lost customers and have seen reductions in sales revenues. Because of this, many have gone out of business, including the ones that service private boaters and fishermen.

“We had a very bitter taste in our mouth when this thing crescendoed and ended,” Brown says. “We’re the ones that are the best stewards of the ocean. The impact that the recreational fisherman has on the environment is so much less than the commercial.”

Many recreational fishermen are also conservationists, Brown says, but they have different approaches than the regulations set forth in the MPAs.

“We wanted to work with some of the NGOs to limit all the bad practices and allow some of the modest ones, but they just didn’t see it,” he says.

Brown says that the sport anglers advocated sensible management tools, such as reduced limits, partial closures for spawning periods and bans and slot limits ¬ó a tool used to regulate the sizes of fish.

He says: “We have a love affair with our ocean.”

Quill says most transects take roughly 70 minutes to complete. He and whoever is volunteering document any type of boat they see ¬óeverything from Coast Guard boats to commercial fishermen to kayaks ¬ó and note their activities.

By documenting boating activities, Quill and Meux are able to see how well fishermen are abiding by the new MPA laws and what areas need better monitoring.

After documenting 13 boats ¬óonly one of which was fishing in an MPA ¬óthe transect is over. One of 13 is a great percentage, Quill says.

“Now we take the pictures and the data and we digitize it,” Meux says. “We make a spreadsheet and a map out of it and we send it to [the California Department of Fish and Game]. It’s information for them —for their wardens, who are limited in time and resources.”

After noon, the SMBK Radon hammers back toward Marina del Rey. Meux is at the stick, and Quill and Yoshida are lying down, enjoying the spray of the wake.

It’s 1:50 p.m. by the time the boat is docked. The only thing left to do is to clean the equipment and the motors.

“It’s such a nice day out,” Quill says.

The sun has finally come out. It’s the perfect temperature, he says.

Quill lies down on his back and spreads his arms and legs out like he’s making a snow angel. He exhales heavily.

“It’s so nice,” he says. “I could just lie here all day.”


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