By Bob Bertelli, The Daily Breeze
In 1999, the Marine Life Protection Act was enacted because California's leaders recognized that coastal development, water pollution and other human activities threaten the health of marine habitat and biological diversity in our ocean waters.
When passed, the act was intended to be a broad conservation program that would fold together laws protecting water quality, coastal development, fishing and other efforts to minimize threats to our ocean. The Legislature recognized that, without a system of coordinated state actions, marine managed areas only "create an illusion of a comprehensive system" of protection and conservation."
And while we've known for years that threats from development and pollution - which studies show is the major problem facing our ocean - were never in doubt, the effects of fishing and nonconsumptive activities are tougher to determine.
In fact, ongoing development like the new mega resort at the old Marineland site at Palos Verdes, and numerous reports of major water-quality problems along our coast, confirm that coastal development and water pollution, not fishing, are the main threat.
Yet instead of attacking the biggest issues, regulators are simply using the law to prohibit fishing, saying that expansive fishing closures will protect the ocean. But that doesn't match up with any science.
Consider a landmark research article published this summer in Science magazine. It showed that California's marine ecosystem has the lowest exploitation rates of any examined region in the world. The report documented that our state's fishery management is the best in the world and problems that may have existed were already being addressed prior to 1999.
But sadly, a comprehensive plan that considers all science and one that does more than duplicate existing fishing regulations isn't part of the act's implementation.
Between 1999 and 2004, there were two efforts to implement the act and both failed. They suffered from a lack of adequate resources and did not provide sufficient information to the public, particularly regarding the potential socioeconomic impacts of marine reserves.
So in the summer of 2004, the California Department of Fish & Game, the California Resources Agency and a private entity known as the Resources Legacy Fund Foundation entered into a partnership to implement the law.
Sounds good, right? Consider the following: The foundation, which funds the act's implementation with money from wealthy and influential environmental nongovernmental organizations and trusts, can, if it does not like the direction in which the implementation is going, take its millions of dollars off the table and go home.
And since California is broke and the governor is desperately seeking to create a positive legacy to make up for the state's finances, it creates a perverse incentive to do things the way the foundation wants. Further, the partnership agreement requires full implementation of the act by 2011, a date not specified in the law.
An artificial target date, private money and a governor's need for a legacy means the real problems plaguing the ocean will not be addressed.
I would prefer our ocean resources be managed for all Californians, based on sound marine science, not political science.
How to comment
The public is invited to participate in the MLPA process.
Mail: MLPA Initiative, c/o California Natural Resources Agency, 1416 Ninth Street, Suite 1311, Sacramento, CA 95814.
You can also read comments submitted by others at www.dfg.ca.gov/mlpa/ publiccomments_sc.asp.
What: Meeting of the South Coast Regional Stakeholder Group
When: Wednesday and Thursday
Where: Sheraton Gateway Los Angeles, 6101 West Century Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90045
What: Meeting of the Blue Ribbon Task Force (group of seven public leaders who oversee the MLPA process)
When: Oct. 20-22
Where: Hilton Long Beach & Executive Meeting Center, 701 West Ocean Blvd., Long Beach, CA 90831
On the Web
Get more information at www.dfg.ca.gov/mlpa.
Bob Bertelli is a veteran sea urchin diver based in San Pedro. He chairs the CA Sea Urchin Commission and is a member of the MLPA South Regional Stakeholder Group.