Wednesday, April 22, 2009
Californians concerned about protecting our ocean should pay attention to the ongoing Marine Life Protection Act process that's supposed to improve ocean health, biodiversity and marine ecosystems off the coast of California.
So far, those goals aren't being met.
That's because the implementation of the act has failed to address, much less resolve, long-standing, serious water quality problems, and has simply given the illusion of protection by opting for the low-hanging fruit of shutting down fishing.
During the Central Coast portion of this ocean protection process, comprehensive and scientifically based recommendations on how to implement the mandated Marine Protected Areas were effectively ignored.
The way the act was implemented in Monterey illustrates mistakes that, if recognized by the leadership and corrected, can make the upcoming efforts much more effective in preserving and protecting our ocean.
People come to Monterey and many other coastal communities to eat fresh, locally caught seafood and to enjoy the uniqueness of our fishing culture, like Cannery Row. We have a deep heritage of commercial and recreational fishing, which supports Monterey's larger tourism industry.
But the effort to carve out ocean areas for new fishing restrictions along the Central Coast has made it more costly and dangerous to catch fish. And it's hurt our broader economy at a time when we can least afford it.
As Monterey's harbormaster, I've seen firsthand how local fishermen are dispirited - and even put out of business - because the implementation of this 1999 law didn't value their needs or their safety, or the food they provide to the public, much less their recommendations for how to achieve ocean protection as well as viable fishing communities.
It's unfortunately amounted to a political process of taking away a large percentage of the prime fishing grounds from recreational and commercial fishermen based on the beliefs of a few marine protection advocates, rather than a need founded in peer-reviewed science or supported by broad-based public opinion.
Although recently improved, originally officials didn't see value in appointing a balanced scientific team - one that reflected the diversity of all scientific disciplines and perspectives. Further, an inherent conflict of interest hasn't been recognized or addressed. Many of these same scientific team members that provide advice are also stakeholders, having a great deal to benefit for themselves and their careers by the creation of no fishing zones near their institutions.
What's more, there's been no coordination or effort to integrate existing federal and state protected areas and already strict fishing regulations into the new plan. This results in redundancy, but little environmental benefit.
And that's certainly not what Californians want.
A 2007 poll for the Alliance of Communities for Sustainable Fisheries, a nonprofit that advocates for fishing communities, shows that two-thirds of the public support small, independent fishermen and recreational fishing activities. When asked which is the better management strategy - to set aside some areas and not let people fish in those areas, even if it means that fishing is displaced, or to manage all of the ocean for sustainable use through science-based fishing quotas - by a nearly 3-to-1 margin Californians selected the option of quotas.
That's significant when compared with the way in which the Marine Life Protection Act has been implemented thus far.
The implementation of this law needs to achieve a more balanced process, crafting fair, equitable solutions that preserve a balance: healthy oceans, sustainable seafood resources and economically strong coastal and harbor communities. Otherwise, we will see a steady destruction of harbor communities, along with our ability to enjoy the ocean and put fresh local seafood on the table.
Steve Scheiblauer is Monterey's harbormaster. He has been directly involved with each of California's attempts to implement the Marine Life Protection Act.