A bill proposing to give law enforcement officers greater leeway to enforce restrictions in California’s Marine Protected Areas was signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown earlier this week.
Assembly Bill 298 will grant officers of the state’s Department of Fish and Wildlife the power to cite anyone who violates restrictions against fishing or poaching within California’s protected-area network.
The bill was introduced earlier this year by Democratic assembly member Lorena Gonzales and received bipartisan support in both the assembly and state senate, according to The Log.
“With the Governor’s support today, we can finally address decades of overfishing in California’s coastal waters to keep our oceans healthy for generations to come,” Gonzalez said in a statement. “By giving frontline officials the means to enforce existing protections, we will relieve pressure on our overtaxed enforcement system and allow our marine life to thrive.”
DFW officers can begin enforcing restrictions and issuing citations beginning Jan. 1. The citation would be similar to a traffic violation.
“MPA violations are currently misdemeanor crimes and oftentimes prosecuted without priority. AB 298 gives officers the discretion to cite violators with an infraction or a misdemeanor,” Gonzales’ staff said in a statement. “This will allow law enforcement officials to effectively manage MPAs without overburdening the legal system, ensuring that lawbreakers are held accountable for damage to fragile marine environments.”
The state’s marina-protected area system was created in 1999 as a means to conserve and protect marine life. There are 124 MPAs within the network, covering about 16 percent of the California coast.