• Stakeholders Are Encouraged to Give Input Before the Next Phase Begins
BY SUZANNE GULDIMANN
Malibuites who were willing to make the trek to either Marina Del Rey or Oxnard last week had the opportunity to learn more about the Marine Life Protection Act Initiative, a partnership of public and private interests that has been tasked with re-evaluating California’s existing Marine Protected Areas and creating a new system of MPAs.
The MLPA is a state law that was passed in 1999. It requires California’s marine protected area system to be redesigned to better protect marine life, habitats and ecosystems.
The MLPA Initiative was established to achieve the goals of the MLPA through the use of “the best readily available science, as well as the advice and assistance of resource managers, policy experts and the public,” according to the MLPA Initiative website. The California Department of Fish and Game is the lead agency and will have final say in determining MPA boundaries and the level of protection each area will receive.
The California Coast has been divided into five regions. The Central Coast has already completed the process. The North Coast Region is just starting, and the South Coast is nearing the halfway mark.
This round of open houses offered participants an opportunity to ask questions and provide input on the South Coast Study Region, which extends from Point Conception to the Mexican border, and includes Malibu. The region is the third to undergo the regional Marine Protected Area planning and design process, which started last summer and is scheduled to continue through the end of 2009. The process for the entire California coast is anticipated to be fully completed by 2011.
According to the DFG, there are already some 42 existing MPAs and three special closures, constituting approximately eight percent of the total South Coast study region, but proponents of the plan say that the existing areas were developed piecemeal and need to be reconfigured.
In Malibu, the discussion has so far centered on the waters off of Point Dume, the stretch of coast between Mugu Lagoon and Sycamore Canyon in Leo Carrillo State Park, and the estuary at Malibu Lagoon.
Stakeholders, defined in this case as “anyone with an interest in the ocean environment,” are viewed as a key element of the plan, according to DFG officials, and there is an official stakeholder’s group comprised of 64 individuals ranging from conservation biologists to recreational kayakers, and from fishing industry executives to concerned coastal residents like Malibu’s former mayor Ken Kearsley.
However, the process is extremely complicated— there are currently six draft MPA proposals for the south coast study region, each prepared by a subset of the stakeholders group, mapping out different MPA strategies and proposed areas. Once the stakeholder group completes its recommendations, they will be reviewed by a science advisory team and the project’s blue ribbon panel before the DFG makes its final determinations.
There are four different levels of protection, not including military closures. The highest levels, State Marine Recreational Management Areas and State Marine Reserves, prohibit all fishing activities and could potentially restrict walking, swimming, boating and diving “to protect marine resources.” The lowest level, State Marine Conservation Areas, is flexible and could permit spear fishing and commercial fishing for certain species, like squid, or sea urchin, but limit other fishing activities, including recreational hook and line fishing.
The amount of information generated by the program is daunting, despite extensive Internet archives available at the DFG website. What was abundantly clear at the Oxnard open house is that some of those stakeholders are apparently far from happy about the way the program is progressing.
Some, like Gregory Helm, a member of the stakeholder group who is also the Southern California program manager for the Ocean Conservancy is concerned that the plan won’t do enough to protect vital ecosystems. “You’ve got to make an investment in the future,” Helm told the Malibu Surfside News, describing the ideal MPA system as a network of submarine wildlife corridors. “There are areas that need to be protected. It’s the right thing to do,” Helm said.
It’s the capricious acts of a dictatorship,” a disgruntled visitor replied. He told The News that he was a kayaker and dismayed that commercial fishing boats and spear fishers may be allowed into certain areas that are currently open to all, but hook and line fishers will be prohibited. Spear fishers may also be shut out from some top diving areas if the highest level of protection is approved.
“Only 3.5 percent of state waters are protected,” Helm argued. “The only real reserves were established in 2005. It isn’t enough that fishing is good now, you want it good forever. People who have been to the reserve at the Channel Islands, people who dive there understand. It’s amazing to see the diversity, the size of certain species.” Helm explained that the hope is that the protected areas will generate fish that “spill over” into the open areas. “Fish get more productive as they get larger. It’s an exponential gain.”
“I wish I would live long enough to see that,” the kayaker said.
The fishing lobby is a powerful force, and fishing interests are a major issue, but there are other concerns. Local surfing advocates are worried that, if areas that contain surf breaks, like the coast between Paradise Cove and Westward Beach, receive the highest level of protection, that access to the water for “non-extractive” activities like surfing and swimming may be prohibited if they are found to have a negative impact on reefs and tide pools.
Asked about the access issue, Kelly Sayce, the director of public outreach for the initiative, told the Malibu Surfside News that “People love the ocean, obviously. The MPLA’s intent is not to limit public access, that’s an important message.”
“The DFG has always had the authority to limit those types of activities,” Project Manager Melissa Miller-Henson added. “It never has. Does that mean it never will? I don’t know, but it never has.”
“There’s a push to share the pain,” said Merit McCrea, a member of the official stakeholder group who runs charter boats to the Channel Islands for anglers and whale watchers.
Stakeholder group member R. Kevin Ketchem, a yacht marina manager, amplified McCrea’s statement. “How would you feel if surfing is shut down? It’s the same passion as fishing. That’s the problem.”
“I don’t fish. I don’t even eat fish,” a surfer replied. “I’m all for saving the fish. I’d love to see abalone and stuff like that out there again, but I don’t see how giving up surfing would help with that.”
“Now is the time to get involved, “ Miller-Henson advised. Stakeholders, she explained, can have an impact, but only if they are willing to communicate.
The deadline for public comments is July 19. Information can we found at the DFG website at http:// www.dfg.ca.gov/mlpa/