By Patricia Wiggins, Redwood Times
The Marine Life Protection Act, passed in 1999, mandates a comprehensive review of existing marine reserves, and, when necessary, allows for the creation of new reserves for marine ecosystem protection. This was a good idea for our state, as well as for the marine life along the nearly 1,100 miles of California coastline.
Now we find ourselves with fast-approaching deadlines for the creation of Marine Protected Areas, and some people are awaiting the outcome with trepidation. They fear the end of their livelihoods, the end of cultural practices, or the hand of “big brother.” And they worry that the largest share of the resource will be set aside for conservation, driven by big environmental groups who seek to protect our coast - whether we want it or not.
The planning process for the North Central Coast Region (Alder Creek near Point Arena to Pigeon Point) is now winding down, while the North Coast Region (Pt. Arena to Oregon border) process is just getting started. And what has been the North Coast Region’s initial response? Rejection, by virtually all stakeholders, of any and all processes controlled from outside the region, particularly from Sacramento. Nothing brings people together like the hand of the state.
I believe there is a strong link between our environmental interests and our commercial and recreational fishing interests, as well as our Native American coastal tribes - we all depend on a clean and well-managed ocean for success. And If the MLPA serves to bring together old antagonists, then surely that’s a good thing.
I am pleased to see indications that our three counties which make up the North Coast Region - Humboldt, Del Norte and Mendocino - are moving in the direction of working together with other key stakeholder groups to develop a science-based “external proposal” specifying the designation of Marine Protected Areas for the coast. The Tri County MLPA working group is the first of its kind to be formed as a response to the implementation of the MLPA process. Hopefully, the counties and their collaborators will be well represented on the regional stakeholder group, so that the external proposal is an on-ramp to a functional process for the whole region.
From the onset of the MLPA process for the coastal regions in the 2nd Senate District, I have been concerned about the people who make their living from, and have long-term cultural ties to, the ocean. Both Native Americans, who are recognized as sovereign nations, and people who fish for their families’ livelihoods, deserve proper recognition in this process. I am adamant that subsistence practices and cultural access to the ocean’s marine resources must be recognized and honored by the MLPA process.
Finally, I think it is very important that any ocean “zoning” recognize other actions in the region. As we determine protected areas, let us also discuss wave energy sites, lease lands for ocean drilling, and the impacts of pipelines and subsurface disturbance, including noise. Any planning efforts for the ocean would be shortsighted if they do not acknowledge current, parallel efforts.
There are a host of wonderful and intelligent people who have volunteered for the MLPA process. Local folks from the coast, including David Hankin from the Humboldt State University Fisheries Department and former Assemblywoman Virginia Strom-Martin, will be representing us in this process on the science advisory team and blue ribbon task force, respectively. Humboldt County Supervisor Jimmy Smith will also serve on the task force.
The outcome of the MLPA is designed to be ecosystem driven. It is those ecosystems that support the communities of the coast and ocean. I have faith that the counties, the tribes, the scientists and your representatives can create something that protects the marine ecosystems, and respects the rights and ways of life of the people of the diverse, wonderful North Coast.
Patricia Wiggins is State Senator for California’s 2nd District, which includes Humboldt and Mendocino Counties.