Monterey Bay Marine Sanctuary Advisory Council
Defers Decision On Marine Reserves

by Dan Bacher

In a public comment session held by the Monterey Bay Marine Sanctuary Advisory Council (SAC) on July 30, 2003 recreational anglers blasted the council for trying to push through a plan for marine reserves, even though no recreational fishermen are represented on the SAC.

The council deferred decision on the SMPA action plan and officially referred it back to the plan´s working group. The testimony and letters from anglers apparently convinced the council to postpone any decision on the controversial Marine Protected Area (MPA) proposal.

“I recommend that we postpone any decision on the MPA plan so we can bring in more people to the process,” said Council Chair Stephanie Harlan at the public input meeting. “I feel we are not ready to make the decision this week.”

The SAC cited a lack of consensus among members of the working group as the reason to defer a decision.

“They decided to re-convene the working group until we can create a plan that we can reach consensus on,” said Howard Egan, the recreational fishing representative for both the MLPA (Marine Life Protection Act) and Sanctuary MPA working groups and a member of the Nor Cal chapter of the Recreational Fishing Alliance.

“Recreational fisherman make up the largest user group in the sanctuary, yet we don´t even have a seat at the table,” stated Egan. “Now that the sanctuary intends to involve itself in regulating fishing, it is clear that the SAC makeup is completely inadequate. I plead with the SAC to defer any decision on the SMPA action plan until our lack of SAC representation has been rectified.”

During the SAC´s formation, representation from the different fishing groups (recreational, commercial, charter boat) was deemed unnecessary since the Sanctuary would not be making or influencing fishing regulations, according to Egan. The single commercial seat on the council now was originally established to advise the council as an expert about fishing issues.

The public session was pure Santa Cruz, a virtual circus with over 400 people attending. Before the meeting, the Coalition of Organizations for Ocean Life (COOL) passed out a flyer throughout the Santa Cruz area stating, “Save our Sanctuary: it´s time to make the Monterey Bay Sanctuary a real sanctuary for fish and underwater places.”

Representatives from COOL, including Defenders of Wildlife, The Ocean Conservancy, Natural Resources Defense Council, and Sea Shepherd, Monterey, spoke in favor of marine protected areas in the sanctuary.

Michelle Newman, a coalition representative with a colorful, flowing dress, walked up to the podium with her guitar and began singing a song she said was written by children in programs at the Seymour Marine Discover Center. Many people in the audience, as well as some council members, joined in singing the chorus, “Protect the ocean, and all the creatures in the sea; protect the ocean, and everything swimming in the deep!'' Another verse of the song went, “Don´t let the species become extinct,” with Newman apparently unaware that the Endangered Species Act and Marine Mammal Protection Act are designed to protect these species, not the marine sanctuary designation.

Anglers countered the push for marine reserves by arguing that (1) the process was undemocratic because no recreational anglers were included on the SAC and (2) the creation of fishing regulations is not part of the sanctuary´s mission.

Bob Strickland, president of United Anglers of California, said that introducing marine reserves was in conflict with the sanctuary´s original designation document which specifically states that the council is not to be involved in formulating fishing regulations. Marine reserves are de-facto fishing regulations because they prevent recreational anglers from fishing in a specific area.

“However, the sanctuary´s not in trouble, this is a scare tactic,” he said, referring to the flyer circulated and comments of MPA advocates. “Anglers want conservation in the sanctuary but we also want to catch fish. I believe we can have both.” Randy Fry, chairman of RFA-Norcal, said his organization would go to Congress for help if the council tried to push the MPA proposal through.

“In 1991, NOAA and Leon Panetta promised the commercial and fishing communities that the sanctuary wouldn´t interfere in fishing regulations,” he said. “The sanctuary was designed to protect the water from oil and mineral extraction and from pollution. Congress never intended that the council get into the fishing regulations business.”

Steve Campi, of Cencal Divers, an organization representing recreational divers from San Luis Obispo County to Oregon, emphasized how the MPA plan by the sanctuary was unnecessary because the state had already created a process.

“I think having the sanctuary council setting up MPAs isn´t the right process, since the state has already started its MPA process under the Marine Life Protection Act. I believe that the sanctuary should devote its resources to water quality, not to creating MPAs.” Kathy Fosmark of the Alliance of Communities for Sustainable Fisheries also opposed the sanctuary getting into the fishing regulation business. “Our opposition to the sanctuary MPA proposal doesn´t mean that fishermen are against MPAs,” she said. “It means letting the Pacific Fisheries Management Council and the state do their job.”

Advocates and opponents of other issues, including choosing a site for a visitors center and inclusion of the Davidson Sea Mount into the sanctuary, spoke passionately at the meeting, causing the session to go until nearly midnight.

I am glad that the Council decided to postpone any decision on its MPA working plan. To make decisions impacting recreational anglers with no representation on the council would be a travesty of justice. Although I support the concept of marine reserves when peer-reviewed scientific studies determine their necessity, I am completely opposed to the SAC´s apparent intention to create another level of bureaucracy to do what the state is already mandated to do under the MLPA.