By Steve Chittock, The Daily Triplicate
November 2, 2009
More than 70 people showed up Thursday night to talk to officials involved with the effort to create marine protected areas along California’s coast.
A frank discussion focused on the fact that some North Coast residents, including fishermen, harbor commissioners and county supervisors, feel left out of the process.
And while many of the attendees left still frustrated, Marine Life Protection Act Initiative officials felt the session was a good step in developing communication with the community.
“We had a good mix,” said MLPA Initiative Executive Director Ken Wiseman. “There were both first-time attendees and people for whom this was their third meeting. It meant we had to get through the basics, but I think there was a lot of communication.”
The MLPA Initiative is tasked with forming marine protected areas along the entire coast, which has been separated into five regions. The North Coast is the fourth region to begin the process.
The three possible levels of marine 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 second half of Thursday’s meeting was supposed to be devoted to a training workshop that covered the key components of so-called external MPA proposals — including science and feasibility guidelines and training in MarineMap, the MLPA Initiative’s online mapping tool.
But due to technical difficulties, those training sessions will be held as webinars — Internet-based seminars — Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday of next week.
External proposals would be developed by people or groups outside of the official process, which involves a recently chosen Science Advisory Team (SAT) and a regional stakeholders group.
Because of the technical difficulties, Thursday’s meeting became more of a question-and-answer session than a workshop.
Crescent City Harbor Commissioner Scott Feller expressed the audience’s general frustration by questioning not only the science behind the MLPA, but also the public outreach effort.
The sentiment was echoed by people all across the room.
“It would be nice if you guys showed us where the sand and rock bottoms are,” a local fishermen said. “How can we submit an external proposal without knowing what’s going on?”
Local fishermen Bill DeBacker put it more directly.
“We should be involved in every step of the process,” DeBacker said. “That’s fairness, we’re the ones out there every day.”
MLPA Initiative Principal Planner Evan Fox agreed with DeBacker that fishermen should be a part of the process.
“That is one of the reasons that we are meeting tonight,” Fox said. “We want as much community input as possible, especially from you guys. It’s in fishermen’s best interest to get in touch with Eco-Trust, to show them where fishing areas are, the grounds that are the most important.”
Eco-Trust is a non-profit firm in Portland that has been contracted to collect economic impact information about MPAs.
“Eco-Trust has collected economic impact information in the last three regions,” said MLPA Initiative Executive Director Ken Wiseman. “It lets us know where the most impact is going to be felt.”
Fox’s assertion that the most important thing fishermen can do is to communicate where the best fishing grounds are was met with quiet distrust in the audience.
During an intermission, one fishermen who preferred to remain anonymous expressed doubt that telling the officials anything would be beneficial.
“We helped when they wanted us to keep track of salmon,” he said. “But all that got us was no more salmon fishing.”
Harbormaster Richard Young felt that overall the meeting provided a good resource for community members who haven’t been following the process closely.
“I feel that a lot of people got to air their feelings and concerns and that it moved down the road a ways,” Young said. “Ultimately I don’t think it altered anybody’s opinions of the process. But unfortunately it’s the law. It’s like the speed limit, I may not like driving 55 miles an hour, but I still do because I have too.”
The webinars are being held from 7 to 8 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday, and from noon to 1 p.m. Thursday, and they are available online or by teleconference.
To participant in teleconference calls on any of the days, dial (877) 662-7634 at the appropriate time and enter passcode 6379063.
To make a reservation for the online seminar, go to the GoToWebinar Web site at http://www1.gotomeeting.com/register/129313777.
According to MLPA officials, using GoToWebinar allows participants to view the presentations and submit questions.