Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Vern Goehring's op-ed in today's Ventura County Star

State needs to address county's ocean pollution

Wednesday, Ventura County beachgoers, surfers, fishermen and outdoor enthusiasts will have a chance to weigh in on six different Southern California marine reserve proposals being considered under the Marine Life Protection Act.

The official question: How to best clean up and protect our ocean environment?

But there’s a big problem — state officials and fishing opponents have so far successfully avoided addressing serious pollution problems, despite the clear mandate and authority in the law. And, missing an opportunity to do something meaningful about water quality is unconscionable.

Poor water quality and the resulting Southern California beach closures are all too common, especially during the rainy season. That’s when accumulated pesticides, herbicides, road oils, bacteria and other assorted water pollutants are flushed out of our communities and watersheds and into coastal waters where swimmers, surfers and fishermen abound.

So, in 1999, the California Legislature passed the Marine Life Protection Act, which was billed as a comprehensive effort to sustain marine habitats and fishing activities using the best readily available science.

Sadly, the task force overseeing the project for the governor and the Fish and Game Commission has consistently failed to consider all environmental impacts on our marine environment. They ignore calls to so something about water quality; implicitly condoning pollution runoff and urban waste being washed into our coastal waters.

Apparently, the governor and his task force feel only adding more no-fishing regulations will magically create healthy oceans. They ignore the fact that no over fishing is going on in California and that commercial and recreational fishing is already heavily regulated by state and federal officials. They also ignore the reality that if pollution is not seriously addressed the negative consequences will continue to add up, as many scientific indicators now show.

A recent study by CSU Long Beach researchers shows that California sea lions have high levels of DDT and PCBs, both of which were banned decades ago, but linger in waters and sediments. And another recent study shows that mixtures of commonly used pesticides at concentrations found in local waters can be lethal to salmon and steelhead — and presumably many other types of fish — at levels where any one of the pesticides is not lethal.

That’s why Ventura-area fishermen are raising the pollution issue in the face of the rush to place large areas of coastal water off limits to fishing. They are concerned more fishing restrictions will mean less attention paid to pollution in the ocean.

If the past is any indicator, we’ll see an increase in fishing restrictions and then regulators and much of the public will move on to something else, pretending that simply shutting down fishing is a real ecosystem-based management solution. And, why not? The proponents repeatedly claim that marine protected areas will protect the ocean.

But California deserves better.

Recent polls reveal that Californians think new regulations should create broad-based environmental benefit versus putting family fishing businesses out of business or further restricting access for recreation and local-caught seafood.

We must work together to adopt an equitable plan to address ocean protection. To that end, local recreational and commercial fishermen have been working with other interested groups to arrive at an agreement on a network of reserves that promote ocean health, reliable local seafood and recreational opportunities for those in our communities who cannot afford to travel overseas to go fishing.

That’s why we urge all Ventura residents to join with us to ensure a comprehensive balanced effort to protect the ocean.

Without good water-quality protections, restrictive fishing regulations will do little for the overall health of our coastal waters and will directly impact future generations’ ability to enjoy the ocean.

— Vern Goehring of Sacramento is manager of the California Fisheries Coalition. The coalition’s Web site is http://www.cafisheriescoalition.org.

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