Ukiah Daily Journal Staff
SACRAMENTO First District Assemblymember Wesley Chesbro (D-Eureka) said Tuesday that he is skeptical about the process used to develop a marine life protection bill that even many ocean advocates don't like.
The Marine Life Protection Act attempts to implement a law passed a decade ago and has been controversial with coastal residents.
"Over the past few months I have been hearing from numerous constituents who have expressed strong concerns regarding the development and implementation of MLPA plans for the North Coast and North Central Coast," Chesbro said. "Because of this strong constituent concern, I am skeptical of the process that has been followed in developing proposed plans for these regions. 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."
Chesbro was a state senator in 1999 when the MLPA was first passed and voted for it but says now that "it is my belief that the MLPA will be a failure if the plans are implemented without the full involvement of all participants, especially local community members and stakeholders. The economic health of local fishing communities must be balanced with the need for habitat protection."
In 1999, the California State Legislature adopted the Marine Life Protection Act, which required the state to evaluate and/or redesign all existing state marine protected areas and to potentially create new MPAs that to the extent possible will act as a network.
These new protections are meant to address a variety of human activities, such as coastal development, water pollution, and fishing, which have been shown to impact marine ecosystems.
A marine protected area is designated by law to protect or conserve marine life and habitat. There are three different MPA designations: A state marine reserve prohibits all extractive activities, including fishing and kelp harvesting; a state marine park prohibits all commercial activities and potentially some recreational activities; state marine conservation areas may limit recreational and/or commercial activities.
From 1999 to 2004, there were two different attempts by the Department of Fish and Game to implement the MLPA. However, both attempts suffered from a lack of adequate resources, and insufficient public involvement.
On Aug. 27, 2004, the Resources Agency and the Department of Fish and Game partnered with the Resource Legacy Foundation to launch a new public-private initiative to implement the MLPA. This new initiative was designed to assist the Department of Fish and Game in implementing the MLPA and uses lessons learned and public feedback from the two previous attempts to help guide implementation efforts.
At recent meetings in coastal Mendocino County, fishers, seaweed harvesters and divers, side-by-side with local restaurateurs and retailers, were united against research they suspect is questionable, that's being used to implement the MLPA.
Many coastal residents who earn their living from the ocean say the process is skewed because it does not take into account the economic impact of setting aside coastal areas for protection. Also they say there are missed habitats, possible favoritism, and, that the study is just generally inadequate.
The contracting firm doing the studies, Ecotrust, has said that its studies will be limited in large part because of lack of funding. Staff confirmed that a complete study would cost $10 million and the state so far has spent $1.3 million on a limited study. Meanwhile, the state of California, already looking at closing most state parks, would need to find $34 million a year to monitor and enforce the new restrictions that include miles of State Parks' oceanfront properties.
The Marine Reserves and Protected Areas (MRPA) are scheduled to be adopted by the California State Fish & Game Commission - which holds the decision-making authority - in August.
Assemblyman Wes Chesbro represents the First Assembly District, which includes Del Norte, Trinity, Humboldt, Mendocino and Lake counties, plus northern and western Sonoma County. He is chairman of the Environmental Safety and Toxic Materials Committee.