Friday, August 21, 2009
Why is California committing to spend millions on a new ocean protection program when it can't afford health care for children, state parks, schools or to keep inmates in prison?
The governor supposedly looked into every cupboard and behind every door to eliminate, reduce or postpone expenditures. Yet his administration persists in a program to create Marine Protected Areas that most people see simply as insurance to protect the ocean and that possibly will cost state taxpayers as much as $55 million annually.
When the Marine Life Protection Act was enacted in 1999 under Gov. Gray Davis, the annual cost was estimated at $250,000. But after considering the requirements to monitor, manage and enforce fishing restrictions linked to Marine Protected Areas, the state Department of Fish and Game now estimates it will need $35 million to $55 million a year to do the job once the program is up and running. That's enough to keep more of the 279 state parks open and is equivalent to one-third of the money cut from the Healthy Families Program.
Marine Protected Areas might be worth this cost if they included a comprehensive plan of coordinated state actions to protect the ocean, but without that, Marine Protected Areas only create an illusion of a comprehensive system of protection and conservation - precisely what the Legislature sought to avoid.
What the administration is doing is simply prohibiting fishing.
Proponents of no-fishing areas suggest that expansive fishing closures will protect the ocean, yet no studies or reports indicate that fishing is the primary threat to California's marine environment.
No estimates exist of the benefits species or ecosystems will reap from fishing closures.
In fact, much evidence suggests that pollution is the major problem and climate change is the emerging threat to marine life.
The Chronicle's Aug. 5 editorial, "On Establishment of Marine Reserves: An ocean preserver," and other proponents of no-fishing areas lump California with other parts of the world that have overfishing problems. A review of worldwide fishing management by marine scientists Boris Worm and Ray Hilborn, reported in the July 31 issue of Science magazine, finds the California Current ecosystem is among the world regions "with the lowest exploitation rates of any place we examined."
Worm and Hilborn document that these precautionary measures of creating Marine Protected Areas are making restoration of depleted fisheries more difficult in developing countries "as some fishing effort is displaced to countries with weaker laws and enforcement capacity." Needlessly restricting fishing compounds this effect, as it may also compound the climate change threat to our oceans.
So is the governor saying one thing while he does another? By creating Marine Protected Areas while he threatens the ocean with his proposal for new offshore oil drilling, his legacy may be a bit difficult to determine.
Vern Goehring is manager of the California Fisheries Coalition, an association of 27 marine-related organizations whose members advocate for cleaner oceans and sustainable marine resources, and contribute more than $5.5 billion annually to the state's economy.