by Steve Scheiblauer
Santa Cruz Sentinel
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, longstanding, 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 important mistakes that, if recognized by the leadership and corrected, can make the upcoming efforts much more effective in preserving and protecting our ocean.
We all know that 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 unfortunately rejected a comprehensive approach to achieve sustainability goals. The resulting negative impact on the fishing community 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.
In 1995, there were more than 150 commercial fishing boats operating out of Monterey's harbor, but in the last few years, that number has decreased drastically. There are now only about 30 full-time boats and just 73 total. And that number is expected to drop even more.
As Monterey's harbormaster, I've seen firsthand how local fishermen are dispirited -- and even put out of business -- because the implementation process didn't value their needs, 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.
And the imbalance favoring expansive restrictions remains intact in the guidelines for determining the size and spacing of new marine protected areas.
But that's certainly not what Californians want.
When polled 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 3-1 margin Californians select the option for sustainable use of the entire ocean.
That's significant when compared with the way in which the Marine Life Protection Act has been implemented thus far.
California deserves better than this.
The Marine Life Protection Act must 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 and has been directly involved each of the state's attempts to implement the Marine Life Protection Act.