Your favorite Santa Barbara spot prawn dish, like Michael Cimarusti's signature salt-roasted ones at his Melrose Avenue restaurant Providence, may be a thing of the past if the most extreme versions of the South Coast Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) proposals pass.

It's been 10 years since the California legislature passed the MLPA–landmark legislation that would create something like an underwater National Park system–but the road to putting it into action has been long and arduous. Stakeholders, as the Department of Fish and Game call those invited to weigh in, include conservationists, commercial and sport fisherman, water enthusiasts and scientists, among others, have been meeting on the South Coast for the last year to discuss how best to preserve the delicate ocean ecosystems from Point Conception to the Mexico border.

Of course, the interests of the different stakeholders are often at odds, particularly the preservationists and the commercial fishermen. While the fishermen understand the need to protect the ocean–pollution and over-fishing threaten their livelihoods–the most restricted form of preserve called a State Marine Reserve could put many of them out of business entirely, banning everything from trawling and hook-and-line fishing to spearfishing and diving (not to mention surfing, swimming and boating).

“That would definitely hurt us,” says Cimarusti, who is also enjoys sport fishing, “local uni and spot prawns, those are staples of our menu. But if it's something that would ensure the longevity of the fishery and the health of the fish stocks, it's for the better.”

But it doesn't have to be all or nothing. “Properly placed reserves lead to more and bigger fish, which is a win-win for both those who want to catch the fish and those who want to save them,” says Steve Gaines, director of UCSB's Marine Science Institute. Finding common ground would be a boon to those who eat them too.

Leah Greenstein writes at and is the co-author of the Food Blog Code of Ethics.

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