Monday, August 10, 2009


COMPLETE REPORT: Fish and Game Commission approves North Central Coast closures despite lack of funds

Bitter debate results in a new network of no-fishing zones


WOODLAND — After four hours of public testimony and acrimonious debate among themselves, the Fish and Game Commission voted to put in place the Marine Life Protection Act Initiative’s Integrated Preferred Alternative of fishing closures along the North Central Coast by a vote of 3-2.

Public testimony included a heartfelt presentation by Department of Fish and Game Warden Todd Tognazzini, president of the California Fish and Game Wardens’ Association. He noted there are no dotted lines on the ocean and no way to put up fences or no trespassing signs. He said he recently cited a CHP officer and a State Parks employee fishing in a marine reserve in the Central Coast, but was unable to respond to a call reporting a fishing vessel in a closed zone due to the fact he was on a furlough day.

“The fact is we don’t have the ability to enforce current fishing closures, much less any new ones,” was the bottom line from Tognazzini.

Commissioners Richard Rogers, Michael Sutton and Don Benninghoven provided the aye votes. The commission earlier rejected a motion by its president Jim Kellogg to postpone the Marine Life Protection Act process until the state’s economy recovers and the existing Central Coast closures prove there is benefit from a large network of marine reserves. His motion was seconded by commissioner Dan Richards.

Kellogg gave an impassioned speech in support of his motion, pleading that no more lives be destroyed because of the MLPA process. Richards followed up by saying he had no problem with the process, but a lot of problems with the fact there is no money to make the closures effective.

Kellogg’s motion failed by the same numbers that approved the new system of State Marine Reserves (no take at all) and State Marine Conservation Areas (very limited take) stretching from Pigeon Point to Point Arena. Before the final vote commissioner Rogers pointed to his history as a waterman and the fact that the waters off California are not the same as they were in the 50s as the reason for his support of marine closures.

Commissioner Sutton stooped to a personal level — at least in the eyes of commissioners Richards and Kellogg — when he termed the efforts of those who would derail the MLPA on the basis of funding as “disingenuous.”

Richards reacted angrily, noting that both he and Kellogg support the MLPA legislation, but simply want accountability.

President Kellogg diffused the situation when he said he came up with a new definition of disingenuous: “I think it means common sense.”

The commissioners who voted for the closures praised the process, including commissioner Benninghoven. No wonder, since until a couple days prior Benninghoven was chair of the Blue Ribbon Task Force overseeing the South Coast project of the MLPA and was a member of the Task Force when it crafted the IPA.

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s last-minute appointment of Benninghoven to fill the hastily vacated seat of former Commission President Cindy Gustafson guaranteed the closures would be put in place regardless of the lack of funding for enforcement and monitoring.

“I’m so disappointed with Schwarzenegger, I can’t even begin to tell you,” Commissioner Dan Richards said in a phone call to WON following the meeting. “Let’s just put it this way, he speaks with forked tongue. On one hand he says he’s not going to kick the budget deficit can down the street for someone else to deal with, and on the other hand appoints Benninghoven to adopt a $45 million a year program that there is no way to fund.

“This is the biggest land grab — except that it’s under water — ever pulled off by the environmental community,” Richards added. “But the fact is at least three commissioners decided to move on regardless, so I respect the decision. I don’t agree with it, but I respect it.”

During his remarks following Kellogg’s motion, Richard noted that offers from other agencies to help with enforcement and monitoring sounded good until he pushed for the details. For instance, when questioned by Richards, the representative of the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary, who promised everything from boats to aircraft patrols, admitted to only having $65,000 in hand for buoys.

“You can’t throw $65,000 at a $40 million problem and call it a solution,” said Richards. “Now if Julie (Packard) wants to guarantee $45 million a year, I’ll vote for the IPA right now. I’d rather vote for 2XA if the commissioners decided to go that way, but I would vote for it.”

As for alternative 2XA, the proposal crafted in large part through the efforts of the Coastside Fishing Club and their representative on the North Central Coast stakeholders group, Ben Sleeter, a large contingent of Coastsiders showed up to ask the commission to choose that package instead of the IPA.

“Unfortunately, even though we brought our A-Game, the commission didn’t see things our way and voted for the IPA,” said Coastside Science Director Dan Wolford in a message posted on the club’s Web site. “It’s hard to look at this in any way other than a loss, and for the guys in the northern part of the study region this loss is big and is going to hurt. While in the southern part of the study region, the differences between 2XA and the IPA are not so great. Nevertheless we did not achieve our objective, and that is not a good feeling. We played a great game, but in the end, hardball politics simply controlled the outcome.”

The loss Wolford referred to was fishing rights to some of the best remaining coastal abalone populations in California. The IPA Stewarts Point SMR closed forever some of the top public access spots while keeping the private coastline of the Sea Ranch development open.

As far as Commissioner Richards is concerned, you can kiss all the newly closed spots along the North Central Coast goodbye forever despite network components are supposed to be reviewed every five years.

“These reserves are not going to be changed, they’re forever,” said Richards. “The limited monitoring and enforcement that will be done invalidates the whole process.

“I guess if you’re a bureaucrat you do this all the time, but it’s not the way I do business,” he added. “One thing I am going to request is all the new MLPA closure areas come with a financial breakdown. It’s just a joke and a sham. I’m not going to let them perpetuate the sham.”

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