Monday, October 19, 2009

Muddy Waters, Hilborn's Final Words

Rich Holland,
October 15, 2009

The days are winding down to the final decision on the South Coast Marine Life Protection Acti Initiative closures, although what exactly will be on the table when the Blue Ribbon Task Force meets Oct. 20-22 has been muddied by the advice provided by the State Attorney General’s office.

A briefing held via teleconference on the morning of Oct. 14 shed some light on the situation and led this writer to a singular conclusion — by definition, State Marine Reserves don’t fit in a urban/suburban environment.

What you’ll probably see are a lot of last minute changes that incorporate the State Marine Conservation Area designation either as part or all of what was initially proposed as a reserve. The only thing that will stay the same is absolutely no fishing of any kind will be allowed. (For more detail on the AG's advice, see my previous blog titled “What is a true reserve? Just click on the link at the top of this page.)

What was really troubling was the admission by the MLPA I-Team’s Melissa Miller-Henson that even if an area is designated as an SMR, agencies that want to build a sewage pipe or dredge sand could always go to the Fish and Game Commission later and make it possible to get the permits simply by having the commission change the designation to an SMCA. With no fishing allowed, of course.

Perhaps the most interesting portion of the teleconference came when the manager of the Department of Fish and Game’s Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve was told inclusion of Bolsa Chica in proposed State Marine Reserves would do away with current restrictions prohibiting swimming, diving and wading.

During the teleconference, Miller-Henson adamantly contended the AG’s opinion allowed jurisdictional agencies like the DFG and State Parks to permit those kinds of activities. Ironically, it seems DFG will be the first agency to move for more restrictions within Southern California’s new State Marine Reserves.

Miller-Henson did admit agencies could not allow activities that would cause injury to species or habitats in reserves, but noted that reserves have been in existence for many years in California and so far ruling bodies have used common sense and not limited activities such as surfing.

But the fact is the legal language spelling out what is allowed in a reserve wasn’t put into code until 2000. And, as the MLPA legislation notes, less than 1 percent of the California coastline was protected as a "GENUINE NO TAKE AREA" (that's how the act reads) when that bill was passed in 1999.

And that's just one more reason California law says “Access and use for activities including, but not limited to walking, swimming, boating, and diving may be restricted to protect marine resources” within a State Marine Reserve. So when an SMR is created, the legal tools are in place to keep more than fishermen out.

Anyway, it’s a great big mess caused by the rush to complete what I have termed over and over as the largest resource grab in the history of California. If you want to see a respected fisheries scientist’s take on the process, watch this clip of Science Advisory Team member Ray Hilborn at the Oct. 6 meeting of the SAT:

You have to watch it, but to quickly paraphrase, Hilborn rejects the size and spacing guidelines and says the framework created by the scientists who had control at the inception have necessarily controlled a process defined by a lack of time to do things right. I have been saying the same things for years now, but Hilborn has actually lived within the process for the last two projects and certainly has the credentials to back his words.

But I think we do share one thing in common. It doesn’t make us feel any better to be right.

Don’t forget to be at the Hilton Executive Meeting Center in Long Beach on Oct. 21 for the BRTF meeting. Yes on 2!

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