Ocean protection effort begins anew

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Posted by on January 08, 2005 at 20:45:58:

Ocean protection effort begins anew

The Department of Fish and Game pledges to do it better this time.

After years of delay and controversy, an effort to establish a series of marine protected areas begins afresh today as an 18-member science advisory team convenes in Oakland.

That is one of two teams that will help develop the long-stalled plan to designate protected areas in the waters off the California coast that are called for under the 1999 Marine Life Protection Act.

The Central Coast will be front and center as the deadline calls for the reserves to be designated by 2006 in this area, and by 2011 for the rest of the state.

"The Central Coast is first up because there is already a well-developed body of knowledge in regards to the science and the impacts," Fish and Game spokesman Mike Wintemute said.

The science team that will assist in crafting the protected zones includes two area scientists — UC Santa Cruz assistant professor Mark Carr and Mary Yoklavich of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries’ Santa Cruz office.

Carr said Thursday the team will be looking for representative habitats, such as rocky reefs or sandy bottoms, as well as targeting types of species in those areas.

The team also will look at how to monitor the effectiveness of those sites once they are designated.

"Once they’re created, they’re gong to have to be monitored to tell how well they’re protecting something," Carr said.

Marine protected areas are a sort of national park in the sea. They can have varied levels of protection measures, including zones where fishing is prohibited.

The prospect of no-fishing zones is what has caused much of the contention regarding protected areas.

Backers say such no-fish zones give species time to grow larger, which aids in their reproductive capacity. The areas also provide a baseline for researchers to compare sea life in protected areas with those in unprotected areas. That allows researchers to see if fishing is impacting fish stocks, or if something like pollution is the culprit.

However, fishermen are leery of the no-fish zones. They say fish are highly migratory and when the last round of areas was proposed in 2001 many of them covered some prime fishing spots.

Fish and Game is trying to defuse that tension. Aside from the science team, a so-called Blue Ribbon Task Force is helping develop the plans and will consider input from divers, boaters, fishermen and other sea users. That task force is composed not of scientists, but of experts in implementing laws and policies.

Backers of protected areas say the department has learned from the past.

"I think they’re bending over backwards to make sure everybody has an opportunity to be included in the process," said Kaitilin Gaffney of the Ocean Conservancy’s Santa Cruz office.

Despite the attempts at inclusion, some fishermen are leery of being boxed out of certain fishing spots.

"I don’t see smooth sailing for this at all," said Santa Cruz fisherman Tom Canale. "You’re never going to have cooperation on something that fishermen see as something that could affect their livelihoods."

Ultimately, the state Fish and Game Commission will decide where the protected areas will be.

Last January the Schwarzenegger administration put the plan on hiatus, citing financial constraints.

A private group, the Recourses Legacy Foundation, donated $750,000 to get the effort restarted, and $500,000 was included in the Fish and Game Department’s 2004-05 budget.

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