Timeline for public input questioned on eve of workshop
By Kurt Madar, Daily Triplicate
October 29, 2009
A change in the process for creating marine protected areas on the North Coast has opponents of additional protections feeling sidelined.
But representatives of the Marine Life Protection Act, the legislation responsible for crafting MPAs, claim the change was intended to allow those same critics more access to the process.
The change pushes to the front end the opportunity for interested parties to create their own protection proposals.
The North Coast is the fourth of five regions where MPAs are being created. In the first three, the so-called external-proposal process was not started first, instead happening in conjunction with the rest of the process.
Part of the Marine Life Protection Act process is forming a Science Advisory Team (SAT) and a Regional Stakeholder Group, both of which will be responsible for developing a proposal for the location and types of MPAs along the North Coast.
Those MPAs could go so far as to impose no-take zones.
External proposals for potential MPAs are developed by individuals and groups outside of the SAT or stakeholder groups.
“We are starting the external process first, which we haven’t done before,” said MLPA Initiative Representative Annelore Reisewitz.
Responding to critics who said they were faced with premature deadlines for external proposals, North Coast legislators intervened, resulting in a postponement of the deadline from from December to Feb, 1, 2010.
Assembleyman Wesley Chesbro and state Sen. Patricia Wiggins said they were working to ensure that North Coast groups have enough time to provide input on the process.
The extension was announced by California Secretary for Natural Resources Mike Chrisman on Monday.
“I’ve had several conversations with Secretary Chrisman encouraging him to extend the process to give North Coast fishermen, conservation groups and tribes more time to prepare proposals,” Chesbro said. “I would have preferred a longer extension, but this is certainly an improvement.
“I remain concerned about the North Coast community having full input in this process.”
While MLPA officials tout starting the external process first as an effort to get local groups more involved than in previous study regions, those same local groups feel it actually works to marginalize their input.
“It seems unusual to require the external arrays to be submitted so early in the process,” said Crescent City Harbormaster Richard Young. “I think starting early in the process is good, but closing early is problematic because not all the info is available to all the players.”
“We need more info, we need to know the bottom topography, we need to know where people fish. The question is, how are people going to develop proposals without knowing what the constraints on the system are?”
As part of the MLPA process, the SAT advises the regional stakeholder group on what the requirements for size, distance and location of MPAs are.
Locals worry that without that information, any external proposals will be unacceptable.
Young also pointed out that crab season is fast approaching, and the need for fishermen to be out at sea makes it hard for them to participate in a process that directly affects their livelihood.
Local near-shore fishermen Kenyon Hensel, who has been intimately involved in the MLPA process, feels front-loading the external proposal process is an attempt to get it over with quicker, and not an effort to involve local interests.
“They just don’t seem to care,” Hensel said. “It’s a ploy to get this over as soon as possible. Once again it just shows that they care more about the southern part of the state than the North Coast.”
“External proposals have no effect on the final product,” Hensel said. “It is simply window-dressing to show that they care about public input.”
Three types of MPAs could be established on the North Coast.
The three levels of protection are primarily based on the severity of the take limit. From least restrictive to most, they include marine conservation areas, marine parks, and marine reserves (which would be no-take areas).
The MLPA Initiative is holding a workshop today from 4:30-8:30 p.m. at the Flynn Center in the Board of Supervisors Chamber, 981 H St.
The training workshop will cover development of the key components of possible external MPA proposals — including science and feasibility guidelines — and training in MarineMap, the MLPA Initiative’s online mapping tool.
MLPA Initiative officials not only announced the deadline extension for external proposals this week, they also released the names of those who will serve on the North Coast SAT.
The only member from Crescent City is Craig Strong of Crescent Coastal Research, a wildlife consulting business.
Strong could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
The rest of the SAT hails from all along the West Coast, with members coming from other North Coast communities and as far away as Seattle and Santa Cruz.
Young, who had applied to be an SAT member, thinks it’s rather strange that only one person from Crescent City was chosen to be part of a group that will ultimately have a major effect on the area.
“I guess they could only find one qualified scientist in the entire community,” Young said sarcastically. “Maybe other folks didn’t come forward.”
California Department of Fish and Game Director Donald Koch feels that the appointees are eminently qualified.
“The scientists I have appointed to the advisory team are each uniquely qualified for this important task,” Koch said in a statement. “Their experience and expertise in marine resources conservation make them well-suited to provide accurate, insightful advice and will help ensure that all decisions made in the coming months will be firmly rooted in the best available science.”
The North Coast SAT’s first meeting will be Friday in Eureka. According to Reisewitz, it will be a joint meeting of the North and South Coast SATs.
“The combined meeting is so that the South Coast team can provide insight to the process for the newly formed North Coast SAT,” Reisewitz said.
More information and an agenda for the Friday meeting may be found at http://www.dfg.ca.gov/mlpa/meetings_n.asp.