Thursday, October 22, 2009

Ventura County Star Op-Ed: Something smells with marine reserves

By Vern Goehring, for the Ventura County Star
October 22, 2009

Today, the Governor’s Blue Ribbon Task Force will vote on which of three different marine reserve plans should be implemented along Southern California’s coastal waters.

On the surface, these marine reserve options seem like a good idea, but if you dive a little deeper, the water starts to get cloudy.

Everyone in Southern California who enjoys the ocean knows poor water quality and beach closures are all too common, especially during the rainy season. That’s when accumulated pesticides, herbicides, road oils, bacteria and other assorted pollutants are flushed out of our communities and watersheds and into coastal waters where swimmers, surfers and fishermen abound. This pollution doesn’t just harm people, it can be deadly on marine wildlife.

So what is green Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger doing to ensure the Marine Life Protection Act tackles the most pressing issue facing our oceans?

In a word: Nothing.

Claiming to be the world’s “greenest” governor and hosting two global summits on climate change within the past year, one would think that doing something about local pollution would be at the top of his environmental list. But instead, he focuses on cutting off our local supply of seafood and major recreational opportunities, thereby jeopardizing jobs and small business.

Sadly, the governor’s task force overseeing the project consistently fails to consider all environmental impacts on our marine environment, implicitly condoning pollution, runoff and urban waste being washed into our coastal waters.

Even California’s attorney general told them that any activity injuring or damaging marine species is prohibited within a reserve and suggested incorporating related definitions from the federal Endangered Species Act.

This would, in essence, give the MLPA the power of the Endangered Species Act — but without being limited to just listed species.

However, the governor and his task force apparently feel only adding more no-fishing regulations will magically create healthy oceans. They ignore the fact that no overfishing is going on in California, regulators have already put in place rigorous ecosystem-based regulations.

They also ignore the reality that proposed MPA reserves could eliminate from 10 percent to 20 percent of the local economy related to recreation and commercial fishing in our Southern California communities. This means thousands of jobs and hundreds of small local businesses, just at a time when every single job and business is critical.

Recent landmark research, “Rebuilding Global Fisheries,” by Drs. Worm, Hilborn, published in Science magazine in July, showed that California’s marine ecosystem has the lowest rates of fishing in any of the world’s regions examined. The report documented that California fishery management is the best in the world and historical problems were already being addressed prior to MLPA. (Dr. Boris Worm once projected that there would be no more fish in the ocean by 2048.)

What’s more, in congratulating areas such as California, Worm and Hilborn document that these precautionary measures are making fish restoration more difficult in developing countries by moving fishing disproportionally to countries with weaker environmental laws and enforcement capacity.

Without increased protections for water quality and other threats to the ocean, additional draconian fishing regulations via marine reserves will do little for the overall health of our coastal waters.

Hopefully, the governor‘s blue-ribbon task force will recognize these critical concerns and will reject any MPA plan that doesn’t truly protect Southern California coastal areas while at the same time minimize damage to our local economies.

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. The coalition’s Web site is

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