Posted by . on January 14, 2004 at 08:03:33:
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 Efforts to Protect Coast Fisheries Halted
Citing a lack of technical staff and funds due to budget constraints, officials postpone plans to establish a series of marine reserves.
By Kenneth R. Weiss
Times Staff Writer
January 14, 2004
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's administration has indefinitely postponed efforts to establish a necklace of no-fishing marine reserves along the California coast, saying budget shortfalls make it unfeasible to finish the plan to help marine life recover from near collapse.
The decision, which does not affect the Santa Barbara Channel Islands marine reserves closed to fishing last April, is the latest in a string of delays to a broader, more sweeping plan ordered by the Legislature to protect ocean waters closer to shore.
The state's secretary of natural resources, Mike Chrisman, said the postponement does not signal a move away from marine reserves as a tool to help restore the state's fish and shellfish populations.
"It's not a retreat at all," Chrisman said. "It's put on hold for what we hope is a very short period of time, until we get the budget issues resolved."
The problem, Chrisman said, is that the Department of Fish and Game, which he oversees, has lost about a third of its technical staff in the marine division and is being squeezed by budget constraints imposed last year.
The department estimates it would take $1.7 million to $2.3 million and additional staff to complete the plan for a series of reserves in near-shore waters money and people the department does not have.
Chrisman said he has begun looking to outsiders for supplemental funding.
"I support the concept of marine reserves," said Chrisman, who as a California fish and game commissioner in 2002 cast the lone "no" vote on establishing 175 square miles of reserves around the Channel Islands. "We are looking for creative solutions and having very good conversations with the Packard Foundation to see if we can get some help to complete this work."
Although sympathetic to the state budget woes, a coalition of environmental groups pushing for marine reserves said it has repeatedly offered to obtain private funds, including $800,000 from the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, to keep the process moving forward.
"There is no reason to stop it indefinitely, when we are willing to raise the funds and provide technical support facilitators and mapmakers that the state needs and does not have," said Warner Chabot, vice president of the Ocean Conservancy. "The state can implement this law in a cost-effective, streamlined manner, rather than parking it by the side for a couple of years."
Fishing groups applauded the decision, saying any more closures should be done only after extensive study.
"We're glad to see the state's commitment to do this right, instead of rushing ahead," said Tom Raftican, president of United Anglers of Southern California. "There are many tools to manage our fish and fish habitat and we ought to look at other tools that do not dramatically hurt the public."
The state Legislature and the governor in 1999 approved the Marine Life Protection Act, which required the Fish and Game department to recommend a plan that would set aside as much as 20% of coastal waters as no-fishing zones and marine conservation areas.
The Legislature settled on that figure because leading marine scientists had recommended that 20% of the world's ocean be set aside to halt the decline in fish and shellfish due to excessive fishing and the destruction of habitat caused by scraping the ocean floor with weighted nets.
State officials convened a group of scientists who proposed an extensive network of reserves along the entire 1,100-mile coastline, including no-fishing zones, and "conservation areas," which allow limited recreational fishing. Among the dozens of proposals submitted by the scientists were designating Santa Monica Bay as a marine conservation area and restricting fishing along much of the coast of Catalina Island, as well as offshore areas near Leo Carrillo State Beach, the Palos Verdes Peninsula, Laguna Beach and elsewhere.
When the maps of these proposed closed areas were unveiled at public meetings, they were roundly condemned by recreational fishermen from Eureka to San Diego, who realized they might lose access to their favorite fishing spots.
As the protests grew louder, state Fish and Game officials decided to start over by inviting fishermen to join scientists, state officials and environmentalists in "regional working groups" and redraw the proposed reserves. The department asked the Legislature for more time, and lawmakers extended the deadline by two years, to April 1, 2005.
On Tuesday, acting Fish and Game Director Sonke Mastrup sent letters to the groups' members, explaining that for budgetary reasons the "department has decided to place the process on a permanent hold and disband the regional working groups."
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