Re: NEWS: DFG to stop all new MPAs and disband working groups

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Posted by . on January 14, 2004 at 01:56:56:

In Reply to: NEWS: DFG to stop all new MPAs and disband working groups posted by Chris on January 13, 2004 at 09:44:37:

State to hit pause on plan for no-fishing zones
By Ken McLaughlin and Paul Rogers
Mercury News

In a major shift in environmental policy, the administration of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has decided to put on ``indefinite hold'' a landmark plan to create a network of marine reserves off California's coast designed to restore collapsing marine species, the Mercury News has learned.

The plan, which could have put up to 20 percent of state waters off limits to fishing, was required by a 1999 state law. It has been cited by marine biologists as a national model -- and perhaps the best hope of arresting the steady decline of dozens of types of fish in California waters.

Monday, Resources Secretary Mike Chrisman said the California Department of Fish and Game chose to halt the process and disband seven ``working groups'' of scientists, environmentalists, fishing industry representatives and others -- a decision he supports -- because the state lacks the $2 million to finish the plan by a Jan. 1, 2005, deadline.

``This is not about supporting the program,'' Chrisman said. ``It is about simply not having enough staff or money to do the job right.''

He emphasized the department -- expected to make an official announcement today -- will restart the process when it has the resources.

Marine scientists and environmentalists greeted the decision with disappointment and anger. Several major studies, including a 2001 report by the National Academy of Sciences, have recommended marine reserves as a key tool in restoring depleted ocean species.

``Just because the state can't provide the gold-plated Cadillac version doesn't mean they should abandon their responsibility to implement state law,'' said Warner Chabot, vice president of the Ocean Conservancy in San Francisco. ``The governor promised creative thinking and protection of resources. This is not an example of either.''

Existing reserves

Department officials said the decision had nothing to do with the change in administrations. Research will continue on existing reserves, including a newly established network off the Channel Islands, officials said. Currently, less than 1 percent of California's ocean waters have been declared no-fishing reserves.

Establishing ocean reserves was mandated by a 1999 law sponsored by then-Assemblyman Kevin Shelley, D-San Francisco, now the secretary of state.

``It is unfortunate that Fish and Game would eliminate the program before it began,'' Shelley said Monday.

Chrisman, a Visalia farmer appointed two months ago by Schwarzenegger, said the department concluded it would cost $1.7 million to $2.3 million to complete a draft plan this year.

Under Schwarzenegger's proposed budget unveiled Friday, the Department of Fish and Game would receive $271.1 million next year -- a drop of $2.8 million, or about 1 percent, from this year.

What really hurts, said Sonke Mastrup, acting Fish and Game director, is that the department has lost so much brain power in the marine division because it's unable to replace senior scientists who have retired.

``Our marine region has so many mandates and responsibilities that something had to give,'' Mastrup said.

Davis official critical

As a member of California's Fish and Game Commission, Chrisman voted in October 2002 against creating the landmark series of no-fishing zones off the Channel Islands. The vote passed 3-2, however, and the reserves became official in April.

The top environmental official for former Gov. Gray Davis, who was recalled Oct. 7 in favor of Schwarzenegger, said she disagrees with the decision.

``I hope the administration reconsiders,'' said Mary Nichols, former resources secretary. ``The longer we wait, the harder it will be to have these reserves fulfill their promise.''

Battered by tight budgets, Fish and Game officials tried to kill the controversial program during Davis' tenure, Nichols said, but she refused to allow it.

``It became clear the department did not have the will or the capacity to put this program together,'' said Nichols, now a law professor at the University of California-Los Angeles. ``I'm not surprised the department is using the budget as the rationale for stopping the program.''

Asked whether the Davis administration supported ocean conservation more than the Schwarzenegger administration does, Chrisman said: ``That's not fair. We're disappointed. We just need a little breathing room until we figure out a way to get more staff and funding.''

Fishermen respond

Bob Strickland, president of the United Anglers of California, said he thought the department's decision was sound.

``We've been telling them that for a year that they don't have the time and money to do this,'' said Strickland, whose group represents recreational fishermen. ``Poaching is the No. 2 illegal thing in California,'' after drugs -- and the department needs to concentrate more on enforcement, he said.

But reaction in the fishing community was not unanimous.

Zeke Grader, executive director of the San Francisco-based Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations, said many of his colleagues have come around to the notion that the reserves are a good idea as long as fishermen are involved in the process. ``There are the hard heads who don't want to lose one square inch of the oceans,'' Grader said.

Researchers were dismayed by the decision.

``We think this is a terrible idea,'' said Chris Harrold, director of research and conservation at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. ``Marine reserves can be a very effective way to protect marine resources beyond the way we are protecting them now.''

Harrold said marine biologists from around the nation have been watching California to see where the reserves would be located and how quickly fish species would rebound if kept off limits to fishing.

The creation of marine reserves was a key recommendation of the Pew Oceans Commission chaired by Leon Panetta, former chief of staff in the Clinton administration.

``I guess I understand the budget restraints they're under, but it's regrettable because our oceans and fisheries are going to pay a heck of a price,'' Panetta said.

Others hope that Fish and Game officials will resurrect the process sooner rather than later.

``Everybody knows they are broke,'' said Steve Palumbi, a marine biologist with Stanford University's Hopkins Marine Station. ``But this is sort of like not making a car payment because you can't afford the stamp.''

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