MLPA and Its Effects on the Diving Community - Part 1

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Posted by Stephen Benavides on November 16, 2009 at 17:25:18:

At this point the task of the regional stakeholder group has been
completed. The blue ribbon task force has made its choice for an
integrated preferred alternative and is forwarding its selection and the three maps prepared by the workgroups to the Fish and Game Commission for final action at its December meeting.

Complete information on this process can be found on the department website at
http://www.dfg.ca.gov/mlpa/mpaoptions_sc.asp . Any further comments on the south coast MPA process should be directed to the Fish and Game Commission who will be responsible for selecting the shapes for the final map.

Comments to the California Fish and Game Commission may be directed to fgc@fgc.ca.gov .

MLPA and Its Effects on the Diving Community. Part 1, The Overall Process.

I would like to begin with my overall opinion on the impact of the Marine Life Protection Act in California. I was appointed as a nonconsumptive diver representative and that does orrespond with my work assignments within the MLPA South Coast Process. I have been involved with ocean conservation work in California for over 20 years and this SoCal MLPA process was the most open and best informed I have ever seen. We were provided with enough briefings and information to overload the senses. There was an expert on the Regional Stakeholder panel for every contingency. Never before in ocean conservation and management processes has a group had access to the detailed scientific,
geographic and economic impact data we were showered with. Remember this is the third of a four part process along the California coast with Central and North-Central California done, ours about so, and the North Coast just starting.

Our Conservation Lobby was a distinct minority on the 63 member RSG and consumptive interests outnumbered nonconsumptive by significant margins as validated in Gem Group voting records. I was a member of the Opal and Workgroup #3 teams. Our Workgroup #3 map was the best performing geographical array the SAT (science team) had ever seen. Look at the results of the SAT evaluations. The San Diego and North Catalina clusters are some of the smallest and most best performing MPA's yet evaluated. We accomplished this AND did so in a smaller footprint than
a competing array. The BRTF used almost none of our product from
Workgroup #3 in the IPA.

Most importantly, our final product met the SAT Guidelines. For over a year we have had the need to produce a Map that met the SAT guidelines drilled into our heads and two of the three maps produced succeeded in meeting SAT guidelines, those being out Group #3 and the "cross interest" proposal of Group #1. The BRTF and the Staff have insisted our product meet SAT guidelines. Sadly, the Integrated Preferred Alternative the BRTF prepared from the meat of the three proposals will likely NOT meet the spacing and replicate guidelines we were admonished
to meet. I am disappointed the BRTF has recommended a compromise
proposal which misses the standard they held the RSG accountable for.

When the Workgroups finished their maps the scientific and stakeholder needs portion of this process shifted to the political arena. In the past two iterations of this MLPA process the BRTF has prepared a Preferred Alternative which drew from all sources. Most of the "meat" in the sausage assembled by the BRTF as their South Coast Integrated Preferred Alternative ("IPA") comes from Workgroup #1 with a smattering
of flavor from the Conservation (#3) and fisherman (#2). Like sausage everywhere, it was not pretty to see it made. I will say this. The fishermen do not like the IPA. If you read the editorials and blogs of Bloodydecks, Spearboard and Western Outdoor News (Rich Holland's Blog)you will see an intense dislike with the outcome. I can also say that the conservation lobby was bitterly disappointed in the outcome. I think we had the opportunity of a lifetime and while the conservation element
of the IPA was significant, I do not believe the BRTF proposal meets the Legislative intent of the Marine Life Management Act nor the MLPA Initiative hurdles set by the SAT. The IPA's levels of protection are not what our grandchildren deserve. They deserve more. Personally, I would have to be pleased with any final map that met the SAT guidelines. I still have slim hopes we will see one.

Divers have had intensively divisive opinions. The overwhelming numbers of letters and emails I have received during my service as an RSG member have been from pro-conservation oriented divers. Some of these have defined themselves as consumptive at times. The most visible divers in the process were the spearfishermen and speara who were very vocal and tenaciously promoted their interests. Support for the conservation
proposal was a majority sentiment in the comments divers directed to me and that was also reflected in the written comments.

In the final analysis, divers had relatively little impact on shaping the final products. There is a very good reason for this and that is that we do not have a significant financial footprint in the "game". The endgame in this process was dominated by money and economics. The really critical decisions made by the BRTF, at Catalina, San Diego,
Laguna, and especially the tradeoff between Palos Verdes and Pt. Dume,divers had almost no real traction on those issues and no critical financial stake. There is no professional lobby for representing diver interests. They were buried by a mountain of economic data provided by Ecotrust and the commercial and CPFV fleets. There were clear instances where superior conservation values were bypassed because the economic consequences of a particular option were deemed unacceptable by the BRTF.

Soon, maybe not in December, but soon, we will have a comprehensive array of MPA's in the area from Pt. Conception to the Mexican border. When we started this process 13 years ago there was less than 1/2 of 1% of the coastline in protected status. Soon, when even the least of the protective arrays is approved, there will be at least 380 square miles of MPA's created by the F&G Commission when they act next month. By any
measure, Conservation has secured impressive conservation benefits for the future, orders of magnitude more than before. I am immensely pleased yet still disappointed our product fell short of the SAT hurdle.

All the participants are disappointed. This is not a bad sign. This is the mark of a successful political process in a state where "Share the Pain" is the mantra of collaborative government and a requirement of the political blessing of the proposed change. All the user groups lost something of value yet there were no clear "losers" among the stakeholders. This was difficult and painful for some but I think we are all winners and time will validate that concept!

Stephen Benavides
South Coast RSG Member

What this country needs are more unemployed politicians.

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