MPA process to restart

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Posted by on August 29, 2004 at 19:40:53:

SAN FRANCISCO State wildlife officials announced plans Friday to revive a stalled program that would create a string of marine reserves along California's 1,100-mile coast and could serve as a model for protecting ocean habitat.

The state's decision to restart planning for a network of restricted fishing zones, mandated by the state Marine Life Protection Act of 1999, comes eight months after the initiative was shelved due to the state's budget woes.

To fund the program's first-year activities, state agencies have secured $2 million from private donors, led by the Resources Legacy Fund Foundation in Sacramento, in addition to $500,000 of state funding.

"We're leveraging public money with private money,'' said state Resources Secretary Mike Chrisman, reached by phone Friday from a Fish and Game Commission meeting in Morro Bay. "This governor is committed to protecting and restoring these oceans, particularly in California.''

Marine reserves represent a new approach to marine conservation. Rather than protecting individual fish species, reserves seek to protect entire marine ecosystems. The 2003 Pew Oceans Commission report and this year's U.S. Ocean Policy Commission report both endorsed such reserves as the best way to restore fish species depleted by overfishing, pollution and other human activities.

While environmentalists are enthusiastic about marine reserves, many commercial and recreational fishermen oppose them, arguing that their effectiveness hasn't been scientifically proved and enforcement would be problematic.

"We don't know that they're going to work. I think there needs to be more studies done,'' said Bob Strickland, president of the United Anglers of California. "I don't like the idea that they're getting money from outside sources who have an agenda.''

California already has a number of protected marine areas created over the years, but many of the zones have conflicting boundaries and restrictions. The new initiative is an effort to develop a more systematic, statewide approach to protecting coastal habitat, Chrisman said.

State officials on Friday announced the creation of a blue ribbon task force, chaired by former Assemblyman Phil Isenberg, that will oversee planning and solicit views from fishermen, environmentalists, recreation groups and other stakeholders. The task force, along with a scientific advisory board, will draw up a new set of reserves.

A draft plan for marine reserves along the Central Coast from San Francisco to Morro Bay is due in 2006, and a statewide plan is expected by 2011, officials said.

The marine reserves would only cover state waters, which extend three miles from the coast. While the extent of the reserves hasn't been determined, some experts estimate that 10 percent to 20 percent of the coast could be off-limits to fishing.

While fishing will be prohibited in some reserves, others may be open for scientific collection or recreational fishing, according to DFG Deputy Director Mike Wintemute.

"The idea is to create protection for ecosystems that will benefit all the species that live within those ecosystems,'' Wintemute said. "This is the direction that the world is moving in.''

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