Dana Point Times
Vol. 2, Issue 10, March 6-12, 2009
By Jonathan Volzke
Dana Point Times
The goal seems simple, even laudable: Establish locations and regulations for marine-protection areas along the California coast to help sea life flourish.
The execution, however, if far more complex, requiring a $17 million budget, a multi-tiered organization of committees, scientific studies, intricate digital maps and a team of 20 consultants. The biggest hurdle so far has been getting fishermen and environmentalists to sit at the same table and agree on a delicate balance of protecting both sea life and the economic viability of the fishing industry.
Done right, marine-protection areas could mean a healthier ocean and more fish for everyone. Done wrong, people could be put of out business.
“There’s a lot of people’s livelihoods at stake here,” said Buck Everingham, who owns El Cajon-based Everingham Brothers Bait Company and is involved in shaping the new regulations. One of their shops is on a barge in Dana Point Harbor. “There’s a lot of emotion. People want to protect the marine life. Fishermen want that too. We’re not irresponsible with the environment.”
The Marine Life Protection Areas have already been established in the Central Coast, and environmental studies are under way for the proposed plan in the north-central coastal area. Dana Point is part of the South Coast area, stretching from Point Conception to the Mexican border. After South Coast is done, North Coast and San Francisco Bay await.
The law does not specify a minimum area to be covered by the marine-protection areas, but those working on the project have been advised by the scientists that they should be bubbles nine to 18 square miles big, and up to 36 square miles. They should also be within 30 to 60 miles of each other, to ensure they work together.
They can extend from the shoreline to three miles out-the state limit-although in some areas they might only cover tidepools or deep-water areas, depending on what is being protected. The maps drawn Monday and Tuesday looked like puzzle pieces of different colors-designating the levels of protection-scattered along the coast and sea.
The process has not been smooth, however: Already two attempts at implementing the 1999 Marine Life Protection Act failed—once because the plan was so bad and another time because the effort ran out of money. That led to a 2004 agreement between the State Resources Agency, California Department of Fish and Game and Resources Legacy Fund Foundation to get the current process underway.
The resulting process involves a blue-ribbon task force at the policy level, a statewide interest group, a scientific advisory panel and local stakeholder groups. The stakeholder groups, in consultation with the scientists, will develop proposed arrays of protection areas, specifying what level of protection will be applied to each area—from absolutely no fishing to what number and type of fish can be taken, and how. Those proposals, along with any from outside groups, will be winnowed down to four, with the state Fish and Game Commission selecting the ultimate plan.
MLPA Program Manager Melissa Miller-Henson said the process is considered so complete that it’s being watched internationally, as other countries realize they, too, will have to implement marine-protection laws.
But that doesn’t mean it goes smoothly. In fact, setting up a process that puts conservationists, scientists, fishermen, surfers and residents at the same table all but guarantees some battles. As more than 60 members of the South Coast Stakeholder Group met in Long Beach on Tuesday and Wednesday to begin sketching out areas for potential protection, more than one left a break-out session complaining they weren’t being listened to or their group was not fairly represented.
Also in the mix are those representing municipal water agencies. While the MLPA isn’t supposed to have any impact on wastewater outfalls, such as the two operated by South Orange County Wastewater Authority here in Dana Point, or desalination efforts such as the one proposed off Doheny Beach by South Coast Water District and other agencies, so officials fear placing a marine-protection area boundaries around those projects will ultimately lead to stricter regulations that may render them impractical.
And in a letter to the group, the city treasurer for Redondo Beach said overly broad fishing restrictions would wipe out King Harbor and the tourism trade there.
Even outside the official process, the effort claimed a victim: longtime president of the Irvine-based United Anglers of Southern California Tom Raftican stepped down from the post under pressure when some members thought his stance was too conservationist. He’d also lambasted boat operators who take out fishermen and taken a $20,000 grant from the Resources Legacy Fund.
Steve Fukuto took over to lead the 3,500-member organization, and was in Long Beach on Monday to present the group’s plan for the marine-protection areas. Capistrano resident John Riordan, a United Anglers member, was there to support him. A pair of conservation groups teamed up to present their own plan, as did another fishing organization, Fishermen’s Information Network. The challenge is meeting the MPLA’s requirements, protecting certain types of marine habitat and certain amounts of it, without wiping out key fishing grounds.
Those fishing grounds include everything from finned fish to lobster to sea urchin, which is scooped up commercially by divers and sold primarily as a Japanese delicacy. The proposal by the Fishermen’s Information Network—FIN—was regarded at first blush as striking a good balance.
“Thank you all for your hard work. The city of Dana Point is interested and supportive of this process, and supportive of helping implement whatever is established,” Dana Point’s Natural Resource Protection Officer Jeff Rosaler told the stakeholder committee in Long Beach on Wednesday. “That said, I’d like to show appreciation for the proposal by [FIN]. It did appreciate marine-protection areas already established in Dana Point and Orange County.”
The FIN proposal, along with the other two independent submittals, will join those from the stakeholder groups for a review by the Science Advisory Team. The 64 members of the stakeholder group split into three teams and developed two proposals each, meaning the science team will review nine. Those will receive extensive comments, and the stakeholder groups will meet again and refine the plans with the comments. Another scientific review will follow that, resulting in a third round of plans that should yield a preferred alternative.
The final recommendations are due by October 22.
In his subcommittee work, Everingham said the conservationists started off greedy. “They didn’t pay attention to the economic impacts and closed half the fishing grounds off San Diego,” he said. “But we talked. This is for study. They’ll come around. We ended up with a good attitude working together.”
For information, or to sign up for an email newsletter about the project, see http://www.dfg.ca.gov/mlpa/