In what was billed as an educational workshop Tuesday, staff from the Marine Life Protection Area Initiative -- designed to provide varying degrees of protection for offshore habitats and species -- laid out the timeline and process for public involvement, but some remained skeptical that the North Coast would have its say.
A Red Lion Hotel conference room was standing room only at the beginning of the three-hour session in Eureka while simultaneous sessions were ongoing and connected in Fort Bragg and Crescent City. Others took part via an Internet-based “webinar” while a constant open conference call was available for participants via telephone.
The MLPA is designed to protect a range of California coastal habitats and the species that live in them and determine varying degrees of protection from no fishing to sport fishing only to limited sport and commercial fishing.
The predominant message from the organizers Tuesday was that local community members would be critical to the process -- either in developing proposals for the program or serving on the North Coast Regional Stakeholders group. Both the stakeholders and the members of the initiative's science advisory team will review the proposals for consistency with the MLPA master plan guidelines. Ultimately, following public and staff review, the proposal will be forwarded to the MLPA Blue Ribbon Task Force whose members, in turn, will forward a preferred plan to the state Fish and Game Commission
If all goes as scheduled, the last step will be completed by the end of 2010.
”There is a lot of flexibility to proposing various designs that would meet the goals of the act,” MLPA Initiative Science and Planning Advisor Satie Airame told the audience.
Guidelines for presenting proposals included including all key habitats, designing Marine Protection Areas no less than 9 square miles and, Airame said, preferably above 18 square miles.
Audience input ranged from how the MLPA's will address tribal rights to concerns about the nature of the blue ribbon task force.
For Dennis Mayo, who has expressed concerns that the protection areas will gut the area's remaining ocean fishing, Tuesday's assurances weren't particularly comforting.
There are no assurances that the process won't end fishing on the North Coast, he said. Some preferable assurances, Mayo added, would be a 20-mile buffer around harbors and zero loss of fishing.