The bay was blanketed in a thick, impenetrable fog. It was as if someone had just stepped in from the rain and flung their damp wool overcoat over the small town to dry. Inside my dimly-lit office however, the fog was finally beginning to clear in the case over which I had been puzzling for the past few months.
Things just hadn't been adding up in the watery ledger of marine protection. Of the 161 marine protected areas (MPAs) on Canada's Pacific coast, 109 were meant to be completely closed to any harvesting of marine creatures, but some amount of commercial fishing seemed to be permitted in all but one. The brass who managed the MPAs didn't seem to communicate too well with the ones who ran the fisheries. The result was that the boundaries of MPAs matched up with those of the fishery closures every bit as well as any two running shoes that might randomly wash ashore on the same beach.
Suddenly, the door to my office flew open with a bang, and a large, bearded figure with a patch over his left eye burst into the room. I jumped to my feet, involuntarily reaching for the gaff I kept beside my desk.
“Sorry about that,” said my office mate, Humpback Bill, removing the patch he used to cover his eye during the long hours he spent scanning the waters through his telescope. He rifled through his desk and dredged up several data sheets, a couple packets of chips and a can of cola before lumbering back out the door.
I sunk back into the murky depths of contemplation. The paradoxical state of maritime affairs hadn't done much for conservation on the coast, or for that matter, fishermen who could actually benefit from the restorative effect MPAs have on some fish populations. It also didn't really contribute to the 20-30 % of each habitat type that Canada had committed to protect through MPAs any more than a leaky survival-suit contributed to the safety gear of a deep-water trawler. Of course, the danger was that both these things might appear to provide adequate protection right up until they are most needed.
I had punched out the final few words of my report for the case earlier that day, but in my mind it was still far from closed.
I hoped it would make a difference, but I doubted it would even be worth the cheap fibre on which it was typed unless John (and Jane) Q. Public took note and demanded a change. In any event, something had to be done soon as neither the fragile ecosystems of the coast, nor the livelihoods of local residents, were getting any safer on their own.
I picked up a fountain pen and scratched out a note on a postcard I'd picked up in Shearwater:
Inspector C. Storm is on special assignment for the Living Oceans Society. Keep an eye out for Inspector Storm in future editions of Water Blogged, and see the evidence in the Case of the Missing Marine Protection for yourself (PDF file).