Friday, July 31, 2009
Staff Writer at the Gloucester Daily Times
A landmark new study of the world's fisheries released yesterday found that management efforts — especially in developmentally advanced nations, notably in the United States, New Zealand and Iceland — have been effective in reversing declines caused by chronic overfishing.
The report, which appears in the issue of Science magazine on newsstands today, is no cause for celebration or let-up in the recovery programs, even in the most advanced systems. But it presents a more hopeful picture than previous alarmist predictions by the chief author, Boris Worm, and colleagues of his who have produced a welter of academic studies funded by the Pew Environment Group and associated environmental non-government organizations, or ENGOS.
Altogether, a team of 21 scientists from academia and government, many with extensive ties to Pew, worked two years on the study, titled "Rebuilding Global Fisheries." And its findings contrast sharply with previous findings by Pew and other ENGO scientists that suggested the oceans were so "overfished" that many stocks were on a path to extinction.
The headliners behind the new story are Worm and his former nemesis, Ray Hilborn, who had sharply criticized Worm's past work as being motivated by an anti-fishing agenda more than by true science.
A member of the faculty at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Worm's research and output has given rise to numerous documentaries and policy papers on overfishing that predicted the seas would be left sterile except for jellyfish by mid-century.
A major policy paper produced by the Environmental Defense Fund last year relied on Worm's vision to recommend catch quotas to the Obama administration as it was forming.
"There is a scientific consensus that fishing is fundamentally altering ocean ecosystems, which are increasingly likely to yield massive swarms of jellyfish rather than food fish," wrote that working group, which included Jane Lubchenco, now the administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
In a Wednesday teleconference about the publication of the new study, Worm pulled back from the generalization but asserted that in some regions the jellyfish scenario is apparent.
Hilborn, a professor of fisheries management at the University of Washington, has warned that this strain of alarmist reports resulted from an inverted form of pseudo-science in which the desired ends are set, and then the research is conducted to support the predetermined ends.
In "Faith-based Fisheries," his landmark response to Worm's work in the November 2006 issue of Fisheries Magazine, Hilborn takes to task not only Worm but Science magazine itself (along with Nature) for uncritical decision making, sham peer reviews and publication of decisions based on the circulation value of a submission rather than its scientific stature.
Worm and Hilborn were together with other co-authors in the Wednesday press teleconference, which had been embargoed until 2 p.m. yesterday.
The magazine's press release noted the Worm-Hilborn conflict and their peace — or truce.
"This new study is a followup to a 2006 paper in Science by Worm and others that highlighted the widespread global trend toward fisheries collapse," a Science statement indicated. "The results of that paper led to a public disagreement between Worm and Hilborn."
The statement indicated that Worm and Hilborn began talking and recognized "a shared sense of purpose."
They were not alone in answering questions at Wednesday's teleconference. A co-author, Michael Fogarty, a biologist with the Science Center of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration at Woods Hole, said Worm's "high-profile study" in 2006 "got my attention."
He reviewed the history of New England groundfishery and said the "success stories" had things in common, notably "hard and fast rules, tighter controls" and incentives for fleets to take the long view instead of repeating the tendency to "race to catch the last fish."
Fogarty also noted the "dramatic recovery of haddock on Georges Bank." He said there's a "haddock baby boom" going on, but cod and flounder are less far along in their recoveries.
"This is the most positive thing to come down the track in a long time," said Nils Stolpe, an East Coast fishing industry consultant and columnist. "The plight of the oceans from overfishing has been significantly oversold. This is a retrenching from that position."
"Efforts to end overfishing around the world are beginning to pay dividends," said NOAA administrator Lubchenco. "The message is loud and clear: When we set firm fishing limits, fish and habitats can recover."
In its initial response, Pew, seizing on the finding that fishing should be held below maximum allowable yields, said yesterday that "Fishing targets must be more conservative than they have been in the past."
The Science study comes on the heels of similar findings reported by the International Council for the Exploration of the Seas in Brussels.
"Our message is rather moderate," said the ICEA, which studies oceans for the coastal states of Europe. "We are not in the best of worlds, but we are not in the worst of worlds either ... Most stocks are stable," the agency reported.
In New England, where the first fishery of the New World opened before the first settlement, the recovery and restoration efforts began in the mid 1970s with the first Magnuson-Stevens Act that claimed a 200-mile frame around the nation's coasts as an exclusive economic zone, and kicked out foreign factory ships that had pillaged at will while the smaller U.S. boats looked on in horror.
Since that time — as ocean science has struggled and pushed to de-mystify the deep — various schemes were tried to protect the weakened stocks while allowing the survival of the fleets from big and little ports all along the east and south coasts, but concentrated in Gloucester and New Bedford.
The dispute over the status of the fishery drove regulatory schemes and public opinion, and left the fishing industry reeling, which is why the Science report was described by Worm as "landmark" and "a turning point."
Whether a scientific consensus behind "Rebuilding Global Fisheries" can be maintained remains to be seen, and the doom-and-gloom message encouraged by Worm and others previously is not easily stifled. "End of the Line," a new, major film documentary narrated by actor Ted Danson, still prophesies an empty ocean — "it's just a question of when."
The policy of the Obama administration, submitted by Pew, the Environmental Defense Fund and Oceania — the major ENGOS that have made commitments to fishing issues — is to convert the traditional conception of the fisheries as commonly-owned public resources into commodities known as "catch shares."
Attempting to assuage concerns especially in New England and along the Mid-Atlantic that the catch shares were susceptible to investor speculation and the extraction of equity, NOAA administrator Lubchenco — a former academic scientist with ties to both EDF and Pew — said this week there were ways to insure indigenous ownership.
The new report by Worm, Hilborn and their colleagues emphasized that their study was far from encyclopedic, and by necessity focused on the more developed nations and their recovery efforts.
They also said it was likely that reduced consumption, which was cited as the key, would logically have pushed harvesting into Third World systems where controls were weak or non-existent.
They urged consumption targets well below maximum sustainable yield levels, catch shares, marine protected areas, innovative and more selective gear and conservative consumption of recovering stocks.
The conclusions section reasoned that:
"Ecosystems examined in this paper account for less than a quarter of the world's fisheries area and catch, and lightly to moderately fished and rebuilding ecosystems comprise less than half of those. They may be best interpreted as large-scale restoration experiments that demonstrate opportunities for successfully rebuilding marine resources elsewhere."
"Similar trajectories of recovery have been documented in protected areas around the world, which currently cover less than 1 percent of ocean area. Taken together, these examples provide hope that despite a long history of over-exploitation, marine ecosystems can still recover if exploitation rates are reduced substantially."
"In fisheries science, there is growing consensus that the exploitation rate that achieves maximum sustainable yield should be reinterpreted as an upper limit rather than a management target."
By Professor Ray Hilborn
The analysis presented in our Science paper shows that the
Much of the motivation for the MLPA was concern about the state of the groundfish stocks - there is clear evidence that these can be rebuilt without MPAs resulting from the MLPA that have only recently begun to be implemented. The benefits of the MPAs established under the MLPA will be primarily to have some areas of high abundance of species with limited mobility.
You can read the article, "Rebuilding Global Fisheries," on the new study released today at Science Magazine (subscription required).
Professor Ray Hilborn co-authored the study and hails from the
Thursday, July 30, 2009
Originally published in The Santa Barbara Independent and Independent.com.
Fishermen and Environmentalists Square Off Over Marine Reserves in Southern California
It’s the golden hour on the Santa Barbara waterfront, with a warm, practically peaceful light sparkling into the early July evening. But across the street from East Beach inside Fess Parker’s DoubleTree Hotel, it feels like a fist fight might break out.
Photo by Paul Wellman
There, a divergent and impressively complete cross-section of people who care about the Santa Barbara Channel are gathered in a conference room, clutching coffee mugs, talking among themselves, looking at large maps of the Southern California coastline, and filling out lengthy public comment forms. While the discourse is civil on the surface, the underlying tension is undeniable as sea urchin divers, commercial trawlers, lobstermen, biologists, elected officials, professional environmentalists, casual conservationists, and other assorted ocean-minded folk make their way through the state-sanctioned Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) workshop.
More than a decade since being voted into reality by the California Legislature, the preservation-motivated, multi-phased MLPA process is fast coming to a head for those who live south of Point Conception. Aiming to create a patchwork of marine-protected areas (MPAs) — places where little to no fishing, be it recreational or commercial, is allowed — along the entire coast of California, the process is, depending on whom you ask, either a crucial power play in the name of preservation that will protect our underwater worlds for generations to come, or a brutal aquatic land grab that threatens to deliver a death blow to our state’s already embattled fishing heritage.
But regardless of where you fall in this contentious spectrum of opinion, one thing is certain: By early 2010, if all goes as scheduled, the process carried out at the DoubleTree that July night finally will be complete, and fishing in the near-shore waters of the Southern California Bight — which extends from the westernmost edge of the Santa Barbara Channel to the Mexican border — will never be the same.
Rules of the Game
“Ocean management, for the past 75 or so years, has been a private party between recreational and commercial fisherman,” argued longtime ocean watchdog Greg Helms a couple days before the DoubleTree meeting. “The Marine Life Protection Act changes that.” As the Ocean Conservancy’s Pacific Conservation Manager, the Santa Barbara-based Helms is one of 64 official regional stakeholders in the Southern California MLPA process. Overwhelmingly approved by the state Legislature in 1999, the MLPA requires that California redesign its MPAs — which range from marine reserves where there’s zero fishing, to marine parks that allow for limited sportfishing, to marine conservation areas where there’s both commercial and sportfishing — in such a way that the preservation of ocean life and ecosystems is made the top priority.
After two false starts by California Department of Fish and Game, which was hamstrung primarily by lack of funding and scant public participation, the process began in earnest in 2004, when the state teamed up with the privately operated Resources Legacy Fund Foundation (RLFF). An über-endowed Sacramento outfit dedicated to the long-term preservation of natural resources, the RLFF brokered an unprecedented — some would say controversial — memorandum of understanding with the state that created a public/private partnership to implement the MLPA, with the RLFF picking up the bulk of the tab. Thus far, the RLFF — which gets its money from California’s wealthiest philanthropists as well as the country’s leading environmental donors — has dished out nearly $20 million to pay for the MLPA process infrastructure, from the salaries and travel expenses of support staff (who technically work for the state) to portions of monitoring and enforcement measures.
With steady funding in place, the state’s 1,100-mile shoreline was split into five study regions: the North Coast, from Oregon south to Alder Creek; the North Central Coast, from Alder Creek south to Pigeon Point; the San Francisco Bay; the Central Coast, from Pigeon Point to Point Conception; and the South Coast, from Point Conception to Mexico. These regions were then tasked with working toward a cohesive network of MPAs via a stakeholder-driven process. If all went according to the memorandum of understanding, the state would have a new and improved hodgepodge of MPAs dotting the coastline by 2011.
To ensure that the goals and spirit of the MLPA are met throughout the process, the California Natural Resources Agency — the state government’s wing that oversees a number of departments, from Fish and Game to Parks & Water Resources — appointed a seven-member Blue Ribbon Task Force (BRTF) for each region. The BRTF — whose members are chosen for their perceived fairness and public policy experience but don’t necessarily have anything to do with fishing — is also supported by an initiative staff and a team of about 20 volunteer scientists who are on hand to help evaluate and interpret the proposals generated by the stakeholder groups for their scientific merit in achieving optimal preservation. Rounding out the MLPA players are the regional stakeholders themselves — a fishing-interest heavy mix of commercial and recreational fishermen as well as conservationists, harbor masters, members of the California Coastal Commission, scientists, Chamber of Commerce representatives, and anyone else with a stake in the sea — and an independently contracted team of facilitators brought in to make sure that the often at-odds stakeholders actually work toward compromise.
Once a region’s stage is set, the stakeholders break up into smaller, more manageable groups and have three separate rounds of occasionally fruitful but usually frustrating brainstorming, horse-trading, and preserve design sessions. After the third round of deliberations, the BRTF — armed with feedback from the science team — makes a final call on the various arrays of MPAs presented and either selects the best one or makes a hybrid that is deemed appropriate. That then gets passed along to the California Fish and Game Commission for a final vote of approval. The entire process, from the BRTF appointments to the final commission vote, takes anywhere from one to two years.
By inviting so many interests to the table, using a science-based protocol, and working through a transparent public process, the hope is that compromises — albeit painful ones — that all parties can live with will rise to the top, and a better future for California’s coast will emerge. While the jury is still out on whether that will come true, the journeys — with the Central Coast region completed in 2007, the North Central Coast region currently at the final approval stage, and the South Coast one entering round three of stakeholder deliberations next week — have been nothing if not deeply troubling for all parties involved. The fisherfolk feel unfairly and unnecessarily pushed to the brink of ruin, with skyrocketing gas prices, sweeping regulations on take limits, catch size, and equipment, and pre-existing fishing area closures in both state and federal waters — with the feds’ Channel Islands marine preserves being one of the biggest — threatening their livelihood even before the MLPA was a reality. Meanwhile, the preservationists, who liken their struggle to the early-20th-century push for the National Park Service, believe that without setting aside swaths of our sea wilderness for wholesale protection, the ocean environment and the critters that call it home are destined for doom.
“The bottom line is that we all own these resources,” said Helms. “So we ought to manage it for all our benefit — not just those who harvest it. This isn’t a fisheries tool. It has a much bigger purpose than that.”
What Price Preservation?
There’s no denying, at least from a global perspective, that the world’s oceans generally are under siege. Overfishing, widespread coastal development, climate change, pollution, and other threats are conspiring at a never-before-seen pace to forever alter and even destroy water-based ecosystems. It was in the bipartisan spirit of combating these trends that the MLPA was passed by California legislators 10 years ago and, as supporters like to point out, signed by a Democratic governor and now aggressively pushed toward implementation by a Republican one. But bipartisanship aside, the fast-tracking process is not popular with everyone, especially Santa Barbara’s fishermen.
“Make no mistake,” said Santa Barbara’s harbor master and South Coast stakeholder Mick Kronman, “this is a conservation exercise, and people, especially fishermen, need to come to terms with that. However, if we don’t strike the golden mean [between fishing and preservation interests], it has the potential for permanently changing the face of Santa Barbara’s waterfront, and I don’t mean that in a good way.”
With roughly 100 commercial fishing boats running out of Santa Barbara at any given time of year and hundreds more recreational boats working the nearby waters, Kronman estimated that fishing for lobster, sea urchin, crab, bonito, squid, and other seafoods comprise at least a $25-million industry when all the economic impacts are tallied. If the South Coast MLPA process lands too heavily on the conservation side, the harbor’s fishermen fear that not only will they be hard-pressed to make ends meet due to loss of vital fishing grounds — particularly because the best spots for fishing, such as Naples Reef and Augustine’s Reef along the Gaviota Coast, also make the most scientific sense for preserving — but that competition for what turf remains will reach an all-time high as boats travel from throughout the state to work the fish-fertile waters of the Santa Barbara Channel.
“I could walk you through the harbor right now and point out entire rows of boats that won’t be here anymore if we do this thing wrong,” explained stakeholder Jeff Maassen, who is vice president of the Commercial Fishermen of Santa Barbara. “Nobody wants this place to become another ticky-tacky, tourist-only plastic yacht marina like Dana Point or Morro Bay.” And, in the day and age of ever-increasing carbon footprint consciousness and eat-local campaigns, the import-only implications of a devastated commercial fishing fleet is something most people would agree we can ill afford.
Given the high stakes, it should come as no surprise that tempers, historically hot around these types of debate, have been flaring during the advancing stages of the South Coast process. While under-the-breath obscenities and stakeholder shouting matches have been par for the course, there’s perhaps no better illustration of the tensions than the meltdown surrounding a planned Santa Barbara Harbor cleanup in early May. Typically an annual day of cooperation among all who use the harbor, from enviros to trawlers, this year’s installment of Operation Clean Sweep was the flash point for a brew of nastiness that still is rocking boats in both the conservation and commercial fishing camps.
As part of the MLPA process, Santa Barbara Channelkeeper, in conjunction with Santa Monica Baykeeper, co-authored an array of preserves they submitted for stakeholder evaluation. Since the nonprofit generally is known as a water quality organization, Channelkeeper’s submittal — which focused on the conservation aims at the price of socio-economic viability and thus included MPAs in such coveted fishing grounds as Point Conception, Carpinteria Reef, and Naples Reef — was considered by many Santa Barbara fishermen to be both a departure from the organization’s mission statement as well as an undeniable middle finger to their way of life. For the fishermen, several of whom actually had spent years volunteering for Channelkeeper doing water quality testing, the plan, formally known as External Plan C, was a form of treason.
“I just feel betrayed by them,” said stakeholder Merit McCrea, a former charter boat captain and current UCSB Bren School graduate student. The fallout not only saw numerous fishermen refuse to participate in May’s harbor cleanup as a point of protest but also led to the resignation of longtime Channelkeeper boardmember and former commercial fisherman Steve Dunn, who’d been with the nonprofit since it was founded in 1999. In response, Channelkeeper recently issued a public statement that clarified its mission to “protect and restore the Santa Barbara Channel and its watersheds” and to combat “continued distribution of misleading and spurious information” about the organization.
The now infamous External Plan C was rejected resoundingly by stakeholders earlier this year, even though it had widespread support from environmental organizations. Despite that rebuff, the BRTF is saying that, while the specific plan indeed is gone, its spirit, intentions, and ideas are anything but defeated. Last week, the South Coast’s BRTF chair Don Benninghoven, a retired executive director for the League of California Cities and a Santa Barbara resident, promised, “Nothing is off the table yet.”
Fish, Funding, and Conspiracy Theories
Ironically, for such a contentious process, there are two critical parts of the MLPA debate on which all sides agree: First, preserves are not necessarily bad things and can actually help the long-term health of certain fisheries, and, second, the available science being used to support arguments both for and against preserves is woefully inadequate. Fishery science inherently is weak because no one really knows how many fish should exist in any given region, so those in favor of conservation end up pushing for preserves even though the target fish levels are unknown.
But while such baseline data is hard to come by, the results of MPAs are increasingly understood, and the benefits are undeniable, according to experts such as Steve Gaines, director of UCSB’s Marine Science Institute, who serves on the MLPA science advisory team along with faculty members of UCSB’s Bren School. “The experiment of setting up reserves has been done more than 200 times around the world, and we know a lot about how ecosystems respond,” said Gaines, pointing to existing preserves around Australia, New Zealand, and Africa. “For starters, we see, on average, about a tripling of biomass within preserve boundaries.” But the benefits don’t have to stop there, said Gaines, explaining that, by carefully selecting preserve boundaries with an eye on ocean currents and fish larvae flow, there’s potential to create systems that have conservation powers far beyond the sum of their individual parts. Properly placed preserves lead to more and bigger fish, which is a win-win for both those who want to catch the fish and those who want to save them. And since “fish don’t know where the boundary of the reserve is,” Gaines said that fishing along preserve edges often leads to more and bigger catches. As for the preserves already in place in our backyard, according to the Ocean Conservancy’s Helms, in the five years since the Channel Islands system was put in place, “the fish have gotten bigger, and there are more of them.” (It is also worth noting that for commercial fishermen, specifically lobstermen, the Channel Islands preserves have had a serious financial impact. According to data from UCSB, Santa Barbara’s commercial lobster fleet has suffered a roughly 30-percent cut to their bottom line.)
Fishermen, however, aren’t quite convinced. In fact, some aren’t even sure that MPAs are the right way to go, at least for Southern California, where anglers — relying on data compiled by Fish and Game — say the current regulatory tools are working well enough. “It is common sense,” said stakeholder Bruce Steele, a commercial sea urchin diver in Santa Barbara. “It is not in the fishermen’s best interest to crash the stock of the species they make a living from. We don’t want to kill the goose that laid the golden egg.” Acknowledging that there certainly are imperfections in management and high-profile closures like the abalone, Steele and others point to increasing fish stocks across the vast majority of Southern California’s fisheries as proof of a not-so-dire situation. That claim is bolstered by a highly anticipated article written in part by fisheries expert and former MLPA process participant Ray Hilborn, released this week in Science magazine, which shows California has the lowest fishery exploitation rate anywhere in the world. Said Steele, “The reality is we are doing a fairly good job of management.”
In the face of such evidence, the looming MLPA reality proves a bitter pill to swallow for many in the fishing community, whether they are one of the estimated 40 million recreational anglers who fish at least one day in California each year or one of the roughly 1,400 commercial fishermen based in the Golden State. On top of that, these fishermen aren’t even sure the doctor giving them the pill has the best intentions. “I am calling bullshit on this entire process,” stated frustrated Santa Barbara crab fisherman Charlie Graham, who figures he’ll lose “about 30 percent” of his traditional fishing grounds under the current “fisher-friendly” proposal. “There are just too many incestuous relationships between the people paying for this whole process, the science behind it, and the people who will implement it,” said Graham, echoing the conspiracy theories uttered by almost every fisherman contacted for this story.
They’re not alone. The California Fair Political Practices Commission and current state Senate Majority Leader Dean Florez also have looked into different parts of the complex private/public partnership between Sacramento and the Resources Legacy Fund Foundation that governs the MLPA process. Although both official inquiries absolved those involved of any wrongdoing or conflicts of interest, fearful fishermen like Graham remain worried. They focus on the money trail behind the RLFF, which is funded in part by philanthropic organizations such as the Packard, Annenberg, and Morris foundations, all of which are considered to be longtime nemeses to fishermen. These same organizations often provide key funding for ocean-based scientific research, including more than a few projects being carried out by members of the MLPA scientific advisory team. Add to this mix the unprecedented public/private partnership model that’s devoid of day-to-day oversight by any elected official and a process that fundamentally identifies fishermen as the force working against oceanic preservation — climate change and ocean acidification aren’t part of the process, and sewage outfall pipes were only included recently as a legitimate variable — and there’s ample room for conspiracy theories of the highest level.
These speculations are of course met with flat-faced denial by RLFF spokesperson Marty Wilson and BRTF chair Don Benninghoven, who both bristled recently at the notion that the final result of the MLPA process is a foregone, anti-fishing conclusion. Admitting that all too often “policy usually does end up where funding starts,” Benninghoven explained, “There has been no pressure on me whatsoever. I have never been told by anybody or even hinted as to how this process should turn out and, believe me, that is rare in Sacramento.” Added Wilson, “It is not as big as a conspiracy as our fishermen friends like to believe. The fact is our oceans are in crisis, but the foundation has no say in how the process is run or how its outcome will look.”
Current State of the Sea
This week, the BRTF for the South Coast region listened to their science team’s interpretation of various MPA systems currently on the table and how they speak to the requirements of the Marine Life Protection Act itself. With about a half-dozen proposals still up for debate — including an external plan fleshed out by a recreational and commercial fishing alliance — the opinion of the science team was that too many of the plans looked too much alike, most of the proposed MPAs actually are getting smaller rather than larger during the process, and that, generally speaking, the degree to which the proposals met the scientific guidelines were trending toward “minimum” levels rather than “preferred” levels. In short, the scientists are finding that the South Coast MLPA process is moving in the exact opposite direction that the law requires. “If anything,” said UCSB’s Steve Gaines, “the proposals are converging away from the guidelines.”
Next week in San Diego, the stakeholders will meet for their third and final round of deliberations. Hoping to offset the stalemates of round two, facilitators are planning on reorganizing the 64 stakeholders into three new small groups, putting the hardcore environmentalists in one room, the stubborn fishermen in another, and those most likely to compromise in the third room. Out of this rearranged grouping, the facilitators hope a proposal that meets the scientific requirements for preservation without crushing the future of California fishing can emerge by a scheduled September 2 stakeholder meeting.
But with battle lines as entrenched as ever, no one appears too hopeful for an across-the-board agreeable outcome. And with estimates now topping more than $40 million a year to enforce the MPAs and carry out the crucial monitoring efforts to make sure they’re working, there are no guarantees that the ambitious program will ever become a reality without additional and substantial private funding.
Perhaps Mike Sheehy, the marine conservation coordinator for Santa Barbara Channelkeeper and the chief architect of its controversial proposal, put it best when he said recently, “If done right, I have no doubt this will have a long-term benefit for both the environment and for fishing interests. All we have to do is get to 20 years from now.”
A state Fish and Game oversight panel is meeting in Santa Monica to study proposals for limiting access in parts of state waters to protect marine life. KPCC’s Molly Peterson reports.
State law requires that California get opinions from everyone from spearfishermen to conservationists about where to set boundaries for marine protected areas. People who use the coast for work and play have made four proposals for marine protected areas from the border up to Point Concepcion. Commercial and recreational fishermen have submitted two proposals of their own.
Now a panel of marine experts is kicking the tires on those possible plans. When the panel’s done, it’ll make recommendations about which plans best serve the educational, economic, and ecological aims of the state’s Marine Life Protection Act.
Along the south coast, much debate has centered on plans for Palos Verdes and Laguna Beach, where fishing is heavy in areas rich with sea life. Laguna Beach’s city council last month voted to a marine reserve where fishing would be banned. That turns up the heat in an already contentious process.
Monday, July 27, 2009
The MLPA North Coast Study Region spans over 200 miles of coastline from the Oregon border to just north of Point Arena. Signatories on the letter include all three counties (Humboldt, Del Norte and Mendocino), five cities (Crescent City, Trinidad, Eureka, Fortuna and Point Arena), all harbor districts (Crescent City, Humboldt Bay, Noyo), the Shelter Cove Resort Improvement District and the Trinidad Rancheria. The letter was voted on and unanimously endorsed by boards representing each of these agencies.
As part of the MLPA Initiative, Humboldt State University recently compiled existing ecological and oceanographic data and found that there are substantial data gaps (see report here http://www.humboldt.edu/~ncalmis/).
The state has no money for implementation, which is estimated by the MLPA Initiative at $20-$60 million per year. According to the law, implementation needs to include enforcement and adaptive management. Adaptive management is a process whereby marine animals and plants are monitored to make sure the MPAs are “working” and if they are not working, then regulations are adjusted. Or, if the MPAs work better than expected, maybe more fishing could be allowed. At this time, the State of California has no money for this effort. In fact, on July 9, the California Fish and Game Wardens' Association sent a letter to the California Fish and Game Commission pleading to “delay or suspend any and all mandates that place additional responsibilities on wardens until such time that furlough and staffing issues are addressed. A prime example of this is...related to the Marine Life Protection Act and the designation of protected areas along our coastline.”
MLPA Initiative staff has conceded that due to a lack of financial resources, CA Department of Fish Game may not be able to implement the MPAs. Why should our community be forced to commit an immense amount of time to a poor planning process, especially if there is no money for implementation? If there is no money for implementation, why not use any resources we do have, to collect data that will improve a future planning process?
It has been repeatedly stated that concerns regarding the MLPA Initiative have been from a “vocal minority”. This is not the case. The MLPA Initiative's own contractors, members of their science advisory team, Fish and Game commissioners, local scientists, elected officials, fishermen, and concerned citizens have all recognized major flaws in the MLPA Initiative.
It has also been suggested that there is “misinformation” being spread in our area, but I have yet to hear any specific points referenced. Apparently, claiming that misinformation is being spread is a political attempt to smooth-over inherent flaws in the MLPA Initiative process.
Please, take a hard look at the process. Based upon what has happened in other parts of the state, there will be a 16-month planning process which will result in closing approximately twenty percent of our fishing grounds. This will most assuredly have negative consequences on our local fishermen and our communities already struggling economically. The state has cut funding for the MLPA Initiative, and MLPA implementation and planning only continue due to private funding, primarily from the Resources Legacy Fund Foundation. We must insist that the MLPA Initiative is delayed until there is adequate time, scientific data, and resources available to implement the law through a scientific and comprehensive process. Our community deserves it, but we must make our voices heard in Sacramento.
I urge you to write to the California Fish and Game Commission, our legislators, and the Resources Legacy Fund Foundation urging they delay or abandon this process until adequate time, scientific data, and resources are available.
Ronnie Pellegrini is the Division 1 commissioner of the Humboldt Bay Harbor, Recreation, and Conservation District.
Thursday, July 23, 2009
By Vern Goehring
Observers of and even participants in the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) implementation process often just accept conventional wisdom that says
The only problem? No evidence has ever been provided in the MLPA process to document such claims. And in truth, fishing is already heavily regulated by the Dept of Fish & Game and the Fish & Game Commission on the state level, as well as the National Marine Fisheries Service, or NOAA Fisheries, and the Pacific Fishery Management Council on the federal level.
In actuality, the MLPA was intended to be an umbrella program to bring coordination to all marine and coastal protection programs to maximize long term benefits, and not just be duplicate fishing restrictions.
The CA Legislature wanted to address water quality and other impacts and that’s how they designed the MLPA. But proponents and the Schwarzenegger Administration would dearly like to have the MLPA only deal with fishing, because it's easier to regulate than really doing something about pollution. And so far, they seem to be succeeding in ignoring the poor water quality plaguing our shores.
When asked about this oversight, members of the Governor’s task force appointed to oversee the process say that there are other forums and means to address water quality, and they are correct. Just like there are other forums and means to address fishing (overfishing is already illegal) concerns, but that doesn’t stop them from duplicating existing laws and regulations.
As fishermen, we’re not advocating shutting down water treatment plants and businesses that have discharge problems, but we are pushing for some measure of elevated attention in balance with the pollution threat present in
To do anything else means overly regulating fishing in order to compensate for other impacts.
But for some reason, MLPA proponents don’t seem to get that excusing pollution won’t actually make it go away. Taking every opportunity to do something is necessary. These same persons are outraged by the Governor, as part of solving the State's budget dilemma, restarting offshore oil extraction after more than 40 years of moratorium - as they should be. One reason for there outrage: the Governor's plan does not include any protections from pollution. Uh?
Put an MPA around the pumping site and you'll have all the criminal sanctions against pollution needed.
Spurred by the comments of more than a dozen local fishers, the council voted unanimously Tuesday to take a position against the Marine Life Protection Act Initiative unless significant changes are made.
"This is an issue of great importance to our community," Mayor Mike Gin said. "There are socioeconomic impacts."
Passed by the Legislature in 1999, the act calls for the creation of a network of marine protected areas along the state's coastline. Since September, a group of 64 stakeholders has mapped out proposed boundaries for no-take zones in Southern California, the third of five coastal regions to undergo a public initiative process guided by state officials.
Over the course of dozens of meetings, the popular waters off the Palos Verdes Peninsula have become a flashpoint as environmentalists and fishers try to stake their claim to the rich marine life in the area, which is vital to fishing-related businesses centered around Redondo Beach's King Harbor.
"This is one of those things that's 10 years in the making and the train's ready to run away and there are no brakes," Councilman Pat Aust said. "I want to go on record saying we're against this until it's better vetted out."
The council called for marine protected areas to be subject to regular reviews - already mandated by the legislation - that would measure economic impact and habitat improvement. Eventually, the areas should be reopened to fishing, the council said.
The city's position, set to be documented in letters to state officials, included opposition to closures north of Point Vicente. That would keep open Rocky Point, an area of scarce hard-bottom habitat that environmental groups hope to protect even as fishers and divers are fighting to maintain access.
"We need to save north Rocky Point," Redondo Beach Marina manager Leslie Page told the council. "If we close north of Point (Vicente), we're in financial trouble. We really need to make a stand."
The council voted 5-0 in favor of taking a position critical of the initiative process, with Councilman Steve Aspel absent.
The vote came after Shelley Luce, executive director of the Santa Monica Bay Restoration Commission, sought to convince the council of the importance of protecting rocky habitat - and that no-take areas could benefit those who fish on their edges.
"This is really about sustaining fish population," Luce said. "The reason people want to fish in certain places is because there's good habitat and that habitat is usually rocky."
Luce, the only voice from the environmental community, asked for the council's backing of a resolution to support protection of some rocky areas of the Santa Monica Bay. Councilman Steve Diels said that would only come if the commission backed the city's ongoing battle to keep open the Seaside Lagoon.
"I'm not shy of playing politics," Diels said.
Officials from the state initiative responded Wednesday by defending their process, saying it was well grounded in science and a thorough analysis of the socioeconomic impacts. They noted that other cities have taken different positions; the Laguna Beach council voted in June to support a no-fishing zone for the city's entire seven-mile coastline.
Program Manager Melissa Miller-Henson said the initiative's guiding body - which will forward recommendations onto the California Fish and Game Commission for a final decision - had taken into account municipal concerns.
"I certainly cannot imagine that our Blue Ribbon Task Force would ever approve a protected area that would have a devastating impact on any one community," Miller-Henson said. "We not only look at the costs, we also look at the benefits. There are benefits and some of them will offset the costs."
The task force is set to meet in Santa Monica next week to weigh six map proposals from stakeholders and determine future steps.
Wednesday, July 22, 2009
State and local government officials, Fish & Game commissioners and other environmental leaders have expressed doubt about the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) and even called for the process to be halted. Below are some of their quotes:
“The process must be based on sound science. I have been saying, ‘show me the science.’ So far I'm not satisfied with the answers I've been getting.”
– Wesley Chesbro, First District Assemblymember who voted in favor of the original legislation in 1999 that created the MLPA
“This is possibly the most devastating thing that has ever happened in
– Kelly Boyd, Laguna Beach Mayor
“Maybe the commission can appeal to the Legislature to put this MLPA process on hold until the state gets on its feet again. That will give us much more opportunity to see if the existing marine protected areas work.”
– Jim Kellogg, Fish and Game Commissioner
“The MLPA and imposition of MPAs does not prevent pollution to the ocean in areas like
– Patrick Higgins, Commissioner for the
“Point Arena is one of the most environmentally active cities on the
– Craig Bell, Mendocino
“We learned that the process (which was supposed to be stakeholder-driven and democratic) of developing the ‘recommended alternative’ was corrupted. Local stakeholders’ concerns were repeatedly ignored and their recommendations over-ridden.”
– Judith Vidaver, Ocean Protection Coalition
“This is not a fishermen versus environmentalists matter. This is a fiscal matter to me. The process, up until recently, has been pretty fair, open and honest…but what I'm not going to do is put my head in the sand like many others and ignore the fiscal crisis
– Dan Richards, Fish and Game Commissioner
“The MLPA process is neither fair nor transparent. The MPAs (Marine Protected Areas) as proposed are not necessary or effective. The MLPA process draws tremendous state and community resources at a time when they could be better used for other things.”
– Vivian Helliwell, Watershed Conservation Director
By Rich Holland
Confused about MLPA? Planners promise to make it all clear as process resumes in the South Coast
The Blue Ribbon Task Force and I-Team planners have a lot of explaining to do as the South Coast project of the Marine Life Protection Act Initiative kicks back into gear July 28-29 here in this seaside town.
What better place than what some call the People’s Republic of Santa Monica than to resume a process that presumes to completely close off a huge chunk of the state’s resource to one segment of society in the name of communal good?
The occasion is the latest meeting of the Blue Ribbon Task Force. The last such event drew hundreds of fishermen eager to comment, only to find they were restricted to simple yea or nay on an agenda item that turned out to be much more complex than that.
The BRTF did uphold the results of a stakeholder vote, but amended a recommendation from I-Team planners in such a way as to make clear they expected and would support any efforts to increase the size and scope of fishing closures along the South Coast.
To say that members of the South Coast Regional Stakeholders Group were told to start from scratch would be an exaggeration. To say that everything at this point is up in the air would not.
While forced to adhere to process based on precedent, the BRTF basically stated that any and all ideas regarding fishing closures were valid and stakeholders would be both encouraged and protected if they stepped outside the bounds of the negotiation that took place during the first two rounds.
The big question now is just how the BRTF and the I-Team (MLPAI staff, Concur facilitators and participating members of state agencies like the Department of Fish and Game) will go about changing the process in order to achieve the outcome they have in mind. For those interested in the process and its final resolution, next Tuesday and Wednesday will be intriguing stuff.
Joel Greenberg, a stakeholder representing the Recreational Fishing Alliance, figures the chance to see how it all shakes out is reason enough for the fishing public to attend. “The public’s input on what they see those two days will be important,” noted Greenberg.
Greenberg and all the other stakeholders have been personally invited by the BRTF to attend. Greenberg has his own ideas of what will happen and what he hopes to get out of the meeting.
“I think the BRTF meeting is intended to clarify a huge number of issues among stakeholders,” said Greenberg. “I would hope they clarify exactly what the process will be as far as the facilitation for our meetings in August.
“There is confusion about the terms the Task Force used at its lastmeeting — safe harbor, middle ground and cross interest support,” added Greenberg. “Everyone has their idea of what that means. There should only be one idea of what that means. I think they are prepared to do that.”
Other sources than Greenberg have indicated the stakeholders may be broken up into two groups when they reconvene Aug. 3-4 in Carlsbad. This has prompted some fear among observers that the environmental faction will be given free rein to design a proposal without the inherent checks and balances of a true stakeholder process — a process, by the way, the same folks had no problem with in the first two project areas when they had their way.
That leads to the distinct impression that the I-Team feels the stakeholders are polarized to the point that a true cooperative process might be out of reach within the time constraints set by the funding partners. An “offline” action by the I-Team certainly seems to point that way.
“They also polled us as far as our first and second choice of the packages that we prefer at this point,” noted Greenberg. “They’re getting all kinds of unusual responses, including a protest ballot that listed the first choice as no choice and the second choice as External A.”
Greenberg said discussions with Don Benninghoven, chair of the BRTF and Ken Wiseman, MLPAI executive director, have led him to believe the stakeholders will be asked to only produce two final proposals, although there is the possibility that three will come out of the deliberations, which will continue in September (Sept. 9-10 at a location to be determined).
The preliminary agenda for the BRTF meeting includes a presentation of the Science Advisory Team evaluations of the six internal and external proposals chosen by the stakeholders at the end of the second round. There will also be presentation of the comments obtained during the series of recent workshops held along the coast and at Catalina Island. “That will be a small book, they had close to 1,200 public comments,” said Greenberg.
The leads (spokespersons) for the internal packages and external proposals evaluated by the SAT will be given a chance to explain the rationale behind their designs.
“Then I heard there will be a panel discussion with the BRTF and the entire stakeholder group on the various geographies one by one in the South Coast,” noted Greenberg. “They want to get very explicit with their instructions. They promise no more confusion.
“We’ll see how that plays out.”
MLPAI Meeting Schedules and Locations
* Blue Ribbon Task Force
July 28-29, 2009
July 28: 9:00 a.m. – 5:30 p.m.
July 29: 8:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.
Sheraton Delfina Santa Monica
530 Pico Blvd.
Santa Monica, CA 90405
* South Coast Regional Stakeholder Group
August 3-4, 2009
August 3: Meeting
850 Palomar Airport Road
Carlsbad, CA 92008
August 4: Work Session
Hilton Garden Inn
6450 Carlsbad Blvd.
Carlsbad, CA 92011
September 9-10, 2009
Location to be determined
September 9: Work Session
September 10: Meeting
Unfunded mandate vs. funded planning
Even a halt to the process until MLPAI costs — which even by Schwarzenegger’s conservative estimates will run a minimum of 10 to 15 million dollars a year — are addressed seems to be a longshot.
“When they talk about closing schools and parks, cutting back on police and shutting down firehouses, it’s seems absurd that this kind of burden would be placed on the state,” one source in the state capital told WON. “The only responsible thing is to do nothing until the financing is in place. To me that’s so blatantly common sense it’s hard to understand any other position.”
With the legislature locked into a contentious budget struggle, the last chance for common sense actions rests in the hands of the Fish and Game Commission. Commissioners are staunch supports of an array of fishing closures under the auspices of the MLPAI, but at least two — Dan Richards and Jim Kellogg — have said they don’t think it’s right to carry the process any farther until funding for implementation, scientific monitoring, education and enforcement are in place.
Enforcement was the big bone of contention last week when the association representing California’s game wardens asked that no further programs, and specifically the MLPA, be implemented by the commission until adequate funding for enforcement was in place and wardens were again put on full-time schedules (see related story in this issue).
How the commission reacts won’t be officially known until they sit again at their Aug. 5-6 meeting at the Yolo Fliers Club, 17980 County Road 94B, in Woodland. (The commission is so strapped for cash that it has been skirting its requirement to hold meetings throughout the state by shifting them around Sacramento County.)
It’s known that commissioners Richard Rogers and Michael Sutton will brook no delays in the MLPAI process. That leaves Commission President Cindy Gustafson of South Lake Tahoe as the deciding vote. A staunch supporter of the MLPAI, Gustafson has yet to show anything but a tendency to go with the status quo on the issue — which is full speed ahead. But in fairness, the matter of a delay or halt in the process has never even been brought to so much as a motion by the commissioners.
So far it’s all talk. That will change during the August meetings, when commissioners are supposed to vote on a final proposal for the North Central Coast project.
POLL: Public Doesn’t Support Total Ocean Bans, Believes in Reasonable Regulation to Accommodate Fishing and Also Protect Species
“The public doesn’t support laws or regulations that hurt the nation’s small, independent fishermen or recreational fishing activities,” said Vern Goehring, manager of the California Fisheries Coalition. “They want smart management of marine ecosystems, not total ocean closures that hurt local economies.”
“That’s good news for fishermen and other ocean users, but it also shows that many state and federal officials are out of touch with public opinion as they attempt to close areas of the ocean to human use,” added Kathy Fosmark, Alliance of Communities for Sustainable Fisheries Co-Chair. “People just don’t want to be shut out from using the ocean.”
The poll also found that people are concerned about how much seafood is imported into the U.S. for human consumption.
Most (89%) of those surveyed consider it important to provide U.S. caught fish. “I believe that most people would be shocked to discover that over 85% of the seafood we consume comes from foreign sources, many of which have no ocean protective measures in place whatsoever” said Monterey commercial fisherman Mike Ricketts. “I hope that this results in more support from our political leaders for the nation’s fishing men and women”.
“Had this survey been taken BEFORE implementation of the California Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA), perhaps many long-time fishing families and businesses would not have been harmed or destroyed,” said Janice Peters, mayor of Morro Bay. “My hope is that with this information, positive changes will be made to the MLPA process that recognize and support the importance of our fishing industry. A balanced, sustainable solution is possible if all stakeholders work together respectfully to achieve it.”
“This public opinion poll offers relevant information to elected officials and other decision-makers when they are considering broad strategies for the management of our marine resources. The Alliance of Communities for Sustainable Fisheries sponsored poll has asked important questions about core public values" stated Steve Scheiblauer, Monterey Harbormaster. “Conservation versus Preservation… it’s good to hear the public’s opinion.”
In addition, the poll showed that the public is willing to accept some change in the ocean’s natural biodiversity in exchange for food production – not clear on what this means? The nationwide survey results are directly relevant to the new interest in spatial management, the Federal system of Marine Protected Areas, the upcoming Congressional reauthorization of the National Marine Sanctuaries Act and the ongoing California Marine Life Protection Act process, as well as the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary’s Marine Protected Area process for Federal waters. The public opinion polls reached 729 people nationally, representing proportionally every state, and were conducted by Responsive Management of Harrisonburg, Virginia, an internationally known polling firm specializing in natural resource issues. The margin of error is 3.63%. Study and regional spokespersons are available, details of the study are below and the entire study can be viewed at http://www.alliancefisheries.com/pub_html/html/Reports.html.
The nationwide survey results are directly relevant to the new interest in spatial management, the Federal system of Marine Protected Areas, the upcoming Congressional reauthorization of the National Marine Sanctuaries Act and the ongoing California Marine Life Protection Act process, as well as the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary’s Marine Protected Area process for Federal waters.
The public opinion polls reached 729 people nationally, representing proportionally every state, and were conducted by Responsive Management of Harrisonburg, Virginia, an internationally known polling firm specializing in natural resource issues. The margin of error is 3.63%.
Study and regional spokespersons are available, details of the study are below and the entire study can be viewed at http://www.alliancefisheries.com/pub_html/html/Reports.html.
National Study Highlights
An overwhelming majority of U.S. residents support legal recreational fishing (90%) with most of that being strong support. Additionally large majority of U.S. residents support legal recreational fishing in National Forests (80%) and National Parks (78%) and wilderness areas (72%).
An overwhelming majority of U.S. residents support legal commercial fishing and shellfish fishing in U.S. waters (86%)
Among U.S. residents, 95% support protecting U.S. ocean waters and ocean life; 78% strongly support doing so and another 17% moderately support doing so
Posed as an open ended question, respondents were then asked what “protect” means, as in “we should protect ocean waters and ocean life”. The most common responses regarding the meaning of “protect” pertains to managing for sustainable use (29%), protecting rare and fragile habitats or sea life (21%), and protecting the environment against oil spills, pollution, dumping etc. (20%) No other category response received more than 14%, including responses of “full protection—no human use” (8%), protecting “some ocean waters” (3%), protecting a “percentage of ocean waters” (1%)
The public’s interest in fully protecting (no human use at all) some U.S. ocean waters is qualified by the public’s sentiment that the areas to be protected in such a manner should be those which have rare and fragile habitats or species.
The survey asked respondents if they agree or disagree that some change to the natural biodiversity in U.S. ocean waters is acceptable in exchange for a continued food supply through fishing and shellfish fishing…agreement (71%) far exceeds disagreement (20%).
The survey, after informing respondents that approximately 85% of seafood consumed in the U.S. is imported, asked U.S. residents how important it is to them that the U.S. maintain its ability to supply seafood to U.S. residents rather than depend entirely on imported seafood. U.S. residents rated this quite high…89% said it is important to them, with most of them saying it is very important (70%).
Monday, July 20, 2009
Sen. Feinstein: 'I believe in standing up for small businesses that are woven into the rich heritage of our coast'
The thousands of small fishing businesses and harbor community interests represented in the California Fisheries Coalition (CFC) greatly appreciate the following statement included in a recent opinion piece by U.S. Senator Feinstein:
"I have been, and will always be, a passionate advocate for protecting
We agree! CFC members also support protecting
Best science means considering all impacts to the ocean, including water quality, and fully considering -- and integrating -- the precautionary restrictions already in place via longstanding fishery management practices. Such integration avoids needless duplicative regulations on small sustainable fishing businesses and harbor communities that are indeed "woven into the rich heritage of (
You can read the entire opinion piece here.