Everybody Out Of The Pools!
PG may soon have a tide pool ordinance restricting...nothing.
Thursday, June 1, 2000
I took 1,700 signatures from Pacific Grove voters, but the community is finally poised to send a clear message to the state agency that allows people to pluck marine life from local tide pools: Stop the taking.
Next Wednesday, the City Council will most likely approve an ordinance that in itself limits nothing but instead makes official the city''s objection to all collection permits issued by the state Department of Fish and Game. The agency regulates the collection of marine animals for research.
The ordinance would adopt a citizen''s initiative circulated by a grassroots group called the Coalition to Preserve and Restore Pt. Pinos Tidepools. Retired science teacher and P.G. resident Jim Willoughby masterminded the initiative after noticing a gradual depletion in sea stars, anemones, mussels and other invertebrates in Pacific Grove''s tide pools over three decades of observation.
The group collected 1,700 signatures, twice the amount it needed to put the initiative on the November ballot. Instead of waiting for the election, the City Council is choosing to adopt the initiative.
Under the ordinance, the city will send a letter of objection to the state Department of Fish and Game and the Fish and Game Commission asking the agencies to suspend collection permits in the Pacific Grove Marine Gardens Fish Refuge. (The commission sets policy while the department oversees compliance.) The refuge runs the length of the coast from the Hopkins Marine Station to Spanish Bay and extends into the bay to a depth of 60 feet.
The ordinance would take advantage of a little-known clause written into the state Fish and Game code. While students and scientists can and do legally gather animals from the refuge for "scientific, educational, or propagation purposes," a rarely used subsection of the code contains a caveat: State-issued permits do not authorize the taking of animals from waters bordering a city "if the city has filed with the department an objection to the taking."
However, the coalition''s entire exercise--including months of signature-gathering, public presentations and a letter-writing campaign--could end in vain. The Department of Fish and Game, which retains jurisdiction over the intertidal areas, could simply choose to ignore the city''s objection.
There''s reason to believe that could happen. In an Aug. 31, 1999 letter to city counsel Stephanie Atigh, Department of Fish and Game attorney Joseph Milton opines that an objection filed by the city of Pacific Grove would not trump state Fish and Game''s authority to grant permits.
Whether that means the department would in fact ignore an objection from the city remains a mystery. Several calls from the Weekly to Fish and Game officials in Sacramento proved fruitless. And Robert Treanor, executive director of the state Fish and Game Commission, says that in his 15 years of service, he has never heard of a city actually filing an objection to collection permits.
Should Fish and Game authorities choose to ignore the objection, the game could be over. The city is not obligated by the initiative to take any further steps.
Although the voters turned out in force to support the initiative, the local scientific community has publicly spoken out against a no-take policy in Pacific Grove. Such a policy, scientists contend, would stifle research and education. Environmental changes like global warming, they say--not human collection--explain the decline in invertebrate populations.
Willoughby, however, says the coalition is not anti-science. The ordinance, if honored by Fish and Game, would still allow the agency to issue collection permits, but only for strictly scientific purposes and only with the permission of the P.G. city manager. In essence, it would localize the control of permitting.