Opposition to Marine Plan Expands

by Daniel Mintz, July 8, 2009

Government agencies throughout the North Coast are against a controversial plan to create marine reserves and the county’s Harbor, Recreation and Conservation District will try to unite the region’s opposition forces into one group.

Implementation of the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) is about to start in the North Coast region and the county’s Harbor District has convened a working group on it. And at the group’s June 30 meeting at the Humboldt Bay Aquatic Center in Eureka, Harbor District General Manager David Hull said MLPA implementation is the “tipping point” for creation of a formal relationship between coastal counties, cities, agencies and tribes.

The city of Eureka, the McKinleyville Community Services District and the Shelter Cove resort improvement district are amongst the agencies that have already signed onto a letter asking for the MLPA process to be delayed. Sport and commercial fishermen say creating marine reserves will ban or limit the use of their best fishing areas and they think the process is being done without an ear for their concerns and without scientific justification.

Hull said the Harbor District’s organizing role could extend to establishing agreements between agencies, where each one would assign two representatives to a regional group. Its working title is the North Coast Local Agency Coastal Coordinating Committee.

Harbor District Commissioner Patrick Higgins said coastal governments and agencies have similar reactions to the prospect of marine reserves. “We’re talking to them about the MLPA and they’re saying, ‘We live in dread of it,’” he told a group of about 40 people that included fishermen, county and city officials, and representatives of the Trinidad Rancheria.

Higgins added that in Mendocino County, even environmentalists are against marine reserves and he announced that the Green Party has joined the opposition.

Point Arena has been designated as a marine reserve, a move that took seaweed harvesting rights away from John Lewallen, an influential environmentalist and founding member of the state’s Green Party. Those who are carrying out the MLPA process say that Lewallen didn’t participate in it and if he had, the outcome could have been different.

There was some disagreement between the working group members on whether anti-MLPA lobbying should be done through the process itself. Some said that the group should concentrate on shutting it down rather than engaging it. But Higgins advised against the shutdown approach, saying, “We have to think nimbly — we’d like to see it delayed but we have to deal with it moving forward.”

John Woolley, the field representative of Senator Wes Chesbro, advised the group to “take the edge off this” by making the proposed regional group more general, with a focus on more than one issue. The suggestion was well-received.

Earlier, the group discussed what the state’s MLPA goals are. Protected areas of at least nine square miles will be placed 30 to 60 miles apart along the North Coast region, which stretches from Point Arena to the Oregon border, from shore to three miles out.

They will focus on rocky habitat areas and various members of the working group noted that the protected areas will mostly affect recreational fishermen. Yet the surveying work of the private Ecotrust group only covers direct commercial fishing effects, they said.

“We are very aware that sport fishing is vital to our economy,” said Higgins, adding that its non-inclusion in Ecotrust’s interviewing process is a concern that will be dealt with.

The MLPA Initiative, a public-private partnership that’s coordinating the marine preserve process, will soon take nominations for a Regional Stakeholders Group that will develop marine protected area proposals. They’ll be reviewed by the state’s Department of Fish and Game and a Science Advisory Team.

A Blue Ribbon Task Force will make recommendations on proposals to the state’s Fish and Game Commission, the final decision-maker.

Adam Wagschal, the District’s conservation director, has experience in designing marine reserves and he said he can help draft proposals.

The District’s working group will continue to hold monthly meetings. The MLPA Initiative, a public-private partnership that’s coordinating the marine preserve process, is also becoming active and its staff has refuted many of the arguments against the process, particularly the claim that it doesn’t adequately absorb public comment and scientific information.

The MLPA Initiative will hold a series of open houses in the region, including in Eureka, later this month.

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