Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Marine protected areas in north-central California up for vote today

By Pete Thomas of the Los Angeles Times


Today beginning at 10 a.m. the California Fish and Game Commission will decide on the Marine Life Protection Act issue as it pertains to north-central California.

The commission will adopt one of several proposals that will determine how much of coastal waters from Santa Cruz to Mendocino will be parceled off as reserves and become off-limits to fishermen. About 30 new reserves will be created and fishing will be restricted or banned in areas covering about 153 square miles.

That determination will be made while the MLPA process is underway in Southern California, the third theater for a controversial process that has pitted fishermen against environmentalists.

Proponents argue that establishing a network of marine protected areas along California is critical to ensure sustainability in an era of declining fisheries. Opponents say pollution and other factors are more to blame for declining fisheries and that this process will merely put fishermen out of business and come at a great cost to a state that already is broke.

Along the latter lines, California's game wardens have said they'll be unable to enforce new rules in the closed areas. Lt. Bob Farrell, a spokesman for the game wardens' union and part-time skipper of the patrol boat Albacore, told the Sacramento Bee that the vessel has not left its Humboldt Bay dock since May because of budget restraints.

Vern Goehring, manager of the California Fisheries Coalition, told the Bee his members aren't opposed to protective measures, but added: "If you don't actually enforce them, then the hoped-for benefits are unlikely to materialize. It doesn't make any sense to do this now."

Proponents of the MLPA process might counter that the state has waited too long already.

One more thing: The commission will decide this issue with a new member, as reported by Amy Littlefield in the Greenspace blog. Cindy Gustafson, commission president, quit last Friday because of a non-related issue. Donald Benninghoven was appointed Tuesday and this will ensure a five-member vote. Gustafson and Benninghoven are considered supporters of the MLPA.

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