There is a reason Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea continues to fascinate readers. The fisherman, Santiago, embodies the frequent human urge to conquer nature as he battles for three days with an immense marlin caught on his line. But he also embodies the complicated emotion of regret once he has harpooned and killed one of the largest marlins his village has ever seen.
Thankfully, Tom Powers, an avid California freediver, anticipated a similar feeling of remorse earlier this week as he held an 11-pound lobster that he wrestled out of its cave in the Northern Channel Islands. Instead of giving way to the impulse to immediately conquer, kill, and make a legend of this immense beast, Tom decided that “the largest lobster he had ever seen” should live on and be enjoyed by all in the Enchanted Kelp Forest Exhibit at the Monterey Bay Aquarium.
It’s worth noting the location where Tom caught the remarkable lobster — the one place in Southern California where a network of marine protected areas (MPAs) exist. Mere coincidence? Maybe.
Tom’s lobster is estimated to be over 50 years old and clearly has been around much longer than the MPAs, which were established by the state in 2003 in the Channel Islands. However, a recent five-year scientific review of the Channel Island reserve MPA network revealed there may, in fact, be some connection between protecting marine ecosystems and these “big bugs.” In the review, scientists found that, “the largest lobster sampled during surveys were found inside the reserve.”
The United Nations Environment Program recently warned of worldwide collapse of fish stocks within decades, and another recent fishery biology study found 90% of all large fish in the global ocean, including tuna, marlin, swordfish, sharks, cod and halibut are gone. Nearly 50 countries and territories now use MPAs as a tool to help replenish depleted fisheries, providing safe havens for fish populations to remain abundant and healthy and supply outside areas for fishing.
These legendary catches should not be just stories of our grandfathers, of books, or the occasional lucky fishermen like Tom. Wouldn’t it be great if Tom saw immense lobsters every time he went out freediving? What if we still found delicious white abalone and car-sized black sea bass in abundance as our grandfathers did in Southern California? Hopefully, we will hear more stories like Tom’s when MPAs are established throughout Southern California in the near future. Then our grandchildren can go out fishing or diving and have a very good chance of coming across a living legend.
Thankfully, the rest of Southern California is now fully engaged in the process to create a network of these MPAs from Point Conception in Santa Barbara to the U.S.-Mexico border through the implementation of the Marine Life Protection Act. Central California already has a network, and north-central California is close to finalizing theirs. For more information and to get involved, go to: http://www.dfg.ca.gov/mlpa/.