More Or Less?
How will a new regulation affect jade collecting?
Thursday, June 25, 1998
An exception to the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary''s blanket ban on jade collection along our protected coastline is due to be signed this week, but locals aren''t sure if it represents a loosening or tightening of existing regulations.
On the books, it has been illegal to remove any oil, gas or mineral from these waters since the Sanctuary was created five years ago. That regulation was designed to prevent offshore drilling by big gas and oil interests, says Sanctuary Enforcement and Regulatory Coordinator Scott Kathey. But jade got caught up in the general ban. Technically, that means folks who picked up a tiny jade pebble from a Big Sur beach were breaking federal law.
In fact, Kathey admits, the law was never enforced, as a compromise with local jade collectors.
The exception now going into effect is really "a correction of an oversight made during the Sanctuary designation process," according to Sanctuary Advisory Council member and former chair Karin Strasser Kauffman. It is now permissible to remove jade from a two-mile stretch of the Big Sur coast from Sand Dollar Beach to San Martin. Each piece may be no larger than what one person can physically carry from the surf onto the beach. The jade may be pried loose from the ocean floor or rocks using only hand tools, and may be lifted to the water''s surface using lift bags with a maximum capability of 200 lbs. Anyone who wants to remove a larger jade piece must apply to the Sanctuary for a permit.
"The idea is to permit collection of jade pebbles," Strasser Kauffman says. Applications for permission to remove larger jade pieces will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis. "If someone wants to take out a large rock by dynamiting, for example, that would be turned down," she says.
In return for legalizing collection of smaller jade pieces, Kathey says, his office will now start enforcing the ban on larger pieces in earnest. He has deputized 22 California Department of Fish and Game wardens and one Big Sur forest ranger, empowering them to enforce federal law. "We''ll have patrol capabilities along the beaches," he says.
The only people really affected by the jade regulations are a handful of local divers who brave the steep cliffs and raging surf of the southern Big Sur coast to retrieve large jade pieces that they, and dozens of other local artists, carve and sell.
Calling the enforcement threat "a ludicrous idea," Monterey jade diver John Haley says the patrols won''t work. "Fish and Game is stretched so thin already, they are not going to post jade police up and down the coast to frisk divers," he says.
Pacific Grove resident Don Wobber, whose jade collecting and carving exploits were featured in a 1987 National Geographic article, hails the new regulatory exception as "something we''ve been working on for five years." He says local jade carvers "can breathe easier now," but notes the legal change won''t affect his own work much unless the Sanctuary folks make it hard to get a permit for the larger stones.
"I use the larger pieces for carving," he says. Wobber has a 9,000-pound jade piece on permanent display at the Oakland Museum, and three smaller pieces at the Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History, as well as a Japanese-style jade rock garden at Carmel''s Barnyard shopping center.
Cathey says the Sanctuary will give preference in issuing permits to people planning to use large jade pieces for educational purposes, "or to benefit the public."
That''s what art does, Wobber responds, particularly when it utilizes something as tactile as huge pieces of jade. In addition to his works on display, which he says "allow people to touch and appreciate jade," he has organized an exhibit specifically for the visually-handicapped, and he will be speaking at an all-day jade symposium at the Monterey Fairgrounds on July 4.
"The federal government is proud that they''ve made it legal now to take stones from the sea, but until they came in to the area, these waters were open for international collectors," he says. And those who dive for jade, or carve the highly-prized green stone, are artists, not speculators. "Jade work is something you don''t do lightly," he says. "It''s labor intensive, and there''s a spiritual side to it. It''s not like just picking up a rock you find on the beach."