New Ca Mlpa No-Fishing Zones Enacted, Despite Strong Opposition And Budget Shortfalls

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Posted by on August 10, 2009 at 16:33:35:

The California Fish & Game Commission (CFGC) voted on 5 August to create approximately 85 square miles of “Marine Protected Areas” (MPAs) off the North Central California coast. These MPAs are, in essence, designed to reduce pressures on marine ecosystems by banning or restricting commercial and recreational fishing, along with some kelp harvesting, within their designated boundaries. The newly approved MPAs will stretch from Pigeon Point in San Mateo County to slightly north of Point Arena in Mendocino County. While the measure was voted through by the Commission 3-2, the costly decision was heavily criticized by many in the scientific, fishing, political, and environmental communities. "It's just another nail in the coffin of the fisherman," said Larry Collins, President of the San Francisco-based Crab Boat Owners Association. "We already are struggling."

"This will shut down the Point Reyes crab grounds to us," he said. "To me, this is all smoke and mirrors and does not address the real issues of water quality. But we are the low-hanging fruit and an easy target."

The 30 new closure areas are part of California’s Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA). Passed in 1999 to protect select sections of state waters, the MLPA has already established a section of MPAs scattered between Point Conception in Santa Barbara County and Pigeon Point. These MPAs zone biologically significant sections of the ocean as state marine park (SMP), state marine conservation areas (SMCA), state marine recreational management areas (SMRMA), or state marine reserves (SMR). SMPs prohibit commercial take and allow certain types of recreational take. SMCAs only permit the take of certain marine organisms by specifically described methods within the MPA. SMRMAs prohibit the take of any marine organisms, but allow the recreational hunting of waterfowl. Most limiting of all the MPA designations is the SMR, which prohibits the take of all marine organisms by any means. Wednesday’s decision carved out 2 SMPs, 9 SMCAs, 2 SMRMAs, and 11 SMRs. These new closure areas will ban or restrict fishing in approximately 20 percent of the coastal waters between Half Moon Bay and Point Arena.

While the Commission’s decision was seen as beneficial by some environmental groups and conservationists, a considerable number of organizations and agencies stood up against the plan. Those in opposition to the plan noted that it will cost the state approximately $55 million annually to run. Due to its high expense, the Legislative Analyst’s office recently recommended that the MLPA process be suspended, and the Joint Legislative Budget Committee voted to strip general funding for the MLPA. At the 5 August meeting, Fish & Game Commissioners Daniel Richards and Jim Kellogg opposed the plan, citing funding concerns. “The magnitude of the problem vs. the offers of assistance don't match," Richards said. "I'm not going to fake it. We have zero ability to properly do this program."

Without adequate funding, there would be no way to enforce regulations within the MPAs without compromising protection efforts currently in effect for other parts of the state. Not only would budget shortfalls hinder effective law enforcement, but poor funding would also make it difficult to even tell if these MPAs are functioning properly. Monitoring programs would be necessary for state officials to accurately determine if these new commercial and recreational fishing limitations are ushering in healthier fish populations, or if not whether some other factor is to blame, such as poor water quality.

Adding to the controversy of Wednesday’s decision is the background of the MLPA Blue Ribbon Task Force (BRTF) and the CFGC members responsible for the decision. Members of the BRTF are responsible for developing alternative proposals for MLPA study regions along the California coast. Of all five BRTF members, only William W. Anderson has actively participated in fisheries. This lack of adequate representation for the fishing community represents serious cause for concern, when dealing with plans that can shut down historic fishing grounds. Many California commercial fishermen are already struggling after two consecutive years of closed salmon seasons.

Not only is there a lack of representation in the Committee responsible for drafting the MPA proposals, but there is also concern that the CFGC composition might have been altered specifically to push the North Central California MPAs forward. The day before the MPA was voted on, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger added a voting member to the Commission to replace Cindy Gustafson, the Commission President. Gustafson’s recent employment as the general manager of the Tahoe City Public Utilities District (TCPUD) was seen as a conflict of interests and it was suggested by the State Attorney General’s office that Gustafson resign. Gustafson resigned from her CFGC position on Friday 31 July, and the evening just before Wednesday’s MPA vote, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger appointed Donald Benninghoven. Prior to his appointment to the CFGC Benninghoven was a member of the BRTF. With Gustafson gone and a 2-2 vote, it stood to reason that the Governor’s newly appointed Commission member would provide the vote necessary to pass the California MLPA North Central Coast Project Integrated Preferred MPA Alternative.

The North Central MPAs will become official in January 1, 2010. There will be a South Coast Regional Stakeholder work session and meeting September 9-10, 2009. Upcoming BRTF meetings to discuss the South Coast MPA project will take place in October and the final recommendation will be delivered on December 10. The North Coast and San Francisco MPA decision process will start shortly after.

For more information on the upcoming MPA meetings, go to www.dfg.ca.gov/mlpa/meetingsmain.asp. For a 5 August 2009 article from the Associated Press, go to www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/n/a/2009/08/05/state/n181024D10.DTL&type=health. For a 5 August 2009 article from the San Francisco Chronicle, go to www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2009/08/06/MNI619406P.DTL. For details regarding the adopted measure, go to www.dfg.ca.gov/mlpa/pdfs/ipa_description.pdf. For a 5 August 2009 article from the San Francisco Chronicle, go to www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2009/08/04/MNL3193EBG.DTL.

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