Fishing for a Fix
Compromise on marine protection plan pleases no one.
Thursday, March 23, 2006
After 18 months, 40 days of formal meetings and countless compromises, time ran out on the California Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Blue Ribbon Task Force. Last week, it had to decide on a package of proposed marine protected areas for the Central Coast, which then would be forwarded to the state Fish and Game Commission.
No one, it seems, was happy with the task force’s decision.
The task force announced it had settled on Package 3R as its preferred recommendation at the conclusion of an emotional two-day meeting in Seaside last week.
Package 3R would prohibit sport and commercial fishing in about 10 percent of the state’s near-shore waters between San Mateo and Santa Barbara counties. Limited fishing would be allowed in another 8 percent of waters along the Central Coast.
Neither fishermen nor conservationists are satisfied with the plan.
Package 3R would prohibit fishing in about 10 percent of the waters between San Mateo and Santa Barbara.
Mike Ricketts, president of the Monterey Fishermen’s Marketing Association, told the task force that the proposed regulations are too restrictive. He said the socioeconomic consequences—which would hurt the fishing industry—outweigh the benefits of marine protection.
But conservationists like Kaitilin Gaffney of the Ocean Conservancy say that Package 3R doesn’t do enough to protect California’s coastal waters.
“The task force recognized the importance of areas like Point Sur and Piedra Blancas by including them in Package 3R, but Package 2 [a plan favored by environmentalists] just does a better job of providing those critical areas a high level of protection,” she says.
Chaired by state Assemblyman and former Sacramento Mayor Phil Isenberg, the task force heard several hours of emotional testimony before publicly whittling the six possible plans under consideration down to three, and, in a last-minute decision, choosing Package 3R.
At the tail end of the contentious and often confused process, MLPA Initiative Executive Director John Kirlin said he was, “dumbfounded by the similarity of the plans and the lack of agreement.”
To illustrate his point, Kirlin said there is only a 4.3 percent range in difference between the amount of protected areas proposed in each of the three packages.
In addition to advancing Package 3R, the preferred alternative, the task force voted to forward two other plans to the Fish and Game Commission: Package 1 and a revised version of Package 2, called Package 2R.
In general, Package 1 has the least economic impact on the fishing industry but is the furthest of the three plans from meeting the Science Advisory Committee’s environmental guidelines, which called for far more stringent restrictions than any of the three proposed plans provided. Widely considered “the fishermen’s proposal,” it would close only 5 percent of the Central Coast to fishing.
In Package 2R, which was supported by groups such as the Monterey Aquarium, Friends of the Sea Otter, and Ocean Conservancy, fishing would be off-limits in 13 percent of the Central Coast.
All three packages designate protected areas with varying boundaries and regulations off Moro Cojo and Elkhorn sloughs near Moss Landing, the Monterey and Pacific Grove waterfronts, Carmel Bay, Point Sur, Piedras Blancas, San Simeon and Santa Barbara.
Today, 13 small Marine Protected Areas [MPAs] covering only 43.1 square miles exist along the Central Coast at Ano Nuevo, Elkhorn Slough, Hopkins Marine Station, Pacific Grove, Carmel Bay, Point Lobos, Julia Pfeiffer Burns, Big Creek, Atascadero, Morro, and Pismo Beaches, and at Point Arguello off Vandenberg Air Base. In contrast, Package 3R would create 31 MPAs with a total of 198.74 protected square miles. Package 1 would create 29 MPAs with a total of 171.5 protected square miles; and Package 2R would create 30 MPAs with a total of 198.74 square miles.
About 50 stakeholders had worked with MLPA Initiative staff and professional facilitators to develop and forward the three original, unrevised plans for marine protection to the task force. This stakeholder group included representatives of recreational angling and diving, commercial fishing, ports and harbors, water quality, conservation, business, and other government agencies with marine protected area responsibilities. Package 1—favored by fishermen—was the least restrictive of the three. Package 2 protected the largest amount of coastal waters, and was favored by conservationists and environmentalists. Package 3 fell somewhere in the middle.
But the task force played fast and loose with the stakeholders’ recommendations from the beginning of the meeting, March 14-15, revising stakeholders’ proposals and considering other plans developed outside the regional stakeholder group process.
Package 3R, which the task force committee recommended by a 4-2 vote, was created when marine scientists and staff members of federal and state resource agencies cobbled together packages 1 and 2 then later added elements of a third proposal dubbed “S” during a last-minute meeting.
Four task force members voted to recommend Package 3R: Isenberg; Catherine Reheis-Boyd, chief operating officer and chief of staff for the Western States Petroleum Association; former state Resources Agency Secretary and environmental lawyer Douglas P. Wheeler; and William Anderson, president of Westrec Marina Management, Inc.
Former San Diego Mayor Susan Golding and state Coastal Commission Chair Meg Caldwell supported 2R.
Now, the task force recommendations will be forwarded to the Department of Fish and Game (DFG), which will then review the three plans.
The next stage of the process will begin in June, when DFG is expected to present its recommendations to the California Fish and Game Commission, the final decision-making body.