The process of creating marine protected areas off the coast of California is a long, tedious one, and it’s nearing its end. Various groups involved in drawing the map have been passionately pushing their causes, and the final round is upon us, with a Department of Fish and Game oversight panel last week narrowing the field from six draft proposals to three, and setting up guidelines for the final drafts.
None of the proposals met the guidelines set forth by the science advisory team selected by the Department of Fish and Game to guide the crafting of marine protected areas, evidence of the difficulty various groups have had in coming to agreement. The group of 64 stakeholders charged with drafting the proposals has been re-arranged into three workgroups to craft the new drafts. Part of the re-assignment criteria was being able to get along. Melissa Miller-Hensen, MLPA Initiative Program Manager, said, “There were multiple and ongoing situations where the ground rules were not being followed. We were trying to be lenient but realized that wasn’t working, so we decided to take a slightly harder stance.”
Ray Hiemstra, of Orange County Coastkeeper said, “They had people sitting in the rooms this time, during our work sessions, and they were noticeably more vigilant than in past meetings.”
Workgroup one, comprised of members with diversified interests, is working from the Topaz proposal set forth in round two, and has been charged with achieving, “a high level of cross-interest support.” Workgroup two, working from the External A proposal, is comprised of mainly fishing interests and has been directed to strive for marine protected areas that are feasible and enforceable. Workgroup three, made up mostly of conservation interests, working from the Lapis 1 proposal, has been instructed to meet the highest standards required by the science advisory team.
The Laguna Beach City Council’s request to designate the entire Laguna coastline a marine reserve was discussed, among many pieces of input, as the work groups hammered out new proposals. Steve Benavides, of the Kelp Forest Coalition, said “In terms of importance, (the City Council’s letter) is not nearly important as the economic cost of moving that (Laguna Beach) reserve south (to Dana Point). If you move it south, there will be a very heavy economic cost for the commercial fishing fleet to pay, and that cost is of much more importance than anything else, including the letter from the Laguna Beach City council.”
Public comment however, is considered an important part of the process by MLPA policy makers, who are mandated to take it into consideration, and attendees said Laguna resident were out in force to make their wishes known, both for and against the city-wide reserve.
Rodger Healy, president of the Dana Cove Fisherman’s Association, said the process was nerve-wracking to watch as an outsider: “It was painful to sit in a room with the powers that be that have no idea about the area…They are proposing new areas to compromise on. They had five different arrays up there for closure, then they moved the lines going out to sea, throwing up different arrays. I’m watching them discuss it, going, ‘If they move it there, I just lost 60% of my income, if they move it there, I just lost 45%.’”
On October 20, final drafts will be submitted to the oversight panel, which will evaluate the proposals, and throw them out or change them if it sees fit, before sending a preferred plan to the Department of Fish and Game Commission for final approval on December 10.
As Ray Hiemstra put it, “Everybody knows this is basically our last shot at it. We have to get it right this time. Everyone in that room wants to produce something that does not need to be revised by (the panel).”