Sanity was restored last week to the California State Fish and Game Commission’s efforts to establish a network of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) in Southern California. The Schwarzenegger administration has long made it a priority to meet the requirements of the Marine Life Protection Act, which calls for establishing a statewide network on MPAs.
But pressure has built from opposition groups the past few months to extend the Draft Environmental Impact Report comment period for the South Coast. The end result would have stalled MPA implementation in Southern California, an area where protections are much needed.
In the days leading up to last week’s hearing, Fish and Game Commissioner Michael Sutsos was removed from the panel and replaced by Jack Baylis, an environmental engineering executive at AECOM who previously served as a State Parks Commissioner, Coastal Conservancy member and Heal the Bay vice-chair.
In a compromise measure, the commission voted 5-0 to extend the DEIR comment period by 15 days. This move provided additional time for public comment, but will not affect the timing of the commission’s final vote on Southern California MPAs, scheduled for mid-December.
A disturbing side issue has been the effort by the L.A. County Sanitation Districts to use the Marine Life Protection Act implementation process to lobby the State Water Board. The Districts’ sewage outfall sits about two miles from the proposed MPAs, so officials fear that their sewage discharge will lead to tougher water quality requirements to ensure clean water in the reserves.
As a result, the Districts have clouded the waters on a very clear issue: MPAs focus on the protection of marine life, not water quality regulations. That’s what the Clean Water Act and Porter Cologne Act are for. Asking for clarification is one thing, but hiring powerful commercial and sportfishing lobbyist, Vern Goehring, to lobby for a 45-day delay is another.
The Sanitation Districts are now opposed to siting MPAs on Palos Verdes, despite the fact that they earlier endorsed the Santa Monica Bay Restoration Commission resolution that supported science-based MPAs off of Point Dume and Palos Verdes.
One of the leaders of the Sanitation Districts opposition movement is Redondo Beach Mayor Mike Gin, also a vice-chair of the Bay Restoration Commission. That’s right — the very same commission that unanimously supported a science-based network of MPAs. Both the Sanitation Districts and Redondo Beach (not Mayor Gin, but his alternate) voted for the Bay Commission resolution. That’s more than a little inconsistent.
We support the Sanitation Districts’ maintenance of their ongoing monitoring program, but seeking a resolution at the State Water Board is overkill.
The Point Vicente and Abalone Cove Marine Conservation Areas allow for monitoring under the MLPA. Some of the best science done off of Palos Verdes has been completed by Sanitation Districts marine biologists. Their data are among the evidence that Rocky Point is the most productive area off of Palos Verdes.
However, because of the politics on the Districts’ Board, there was no way that they would support locating an MPA at Rocky Point, even though it is among the best habitat on the Southern California coast.
Even the MLPA Scientific Advisory Team’s evaluations showed that Rocky Point would be the most productive MPA location off of PV. Instead, Sanitation Districts officials have been playing a dangerous game that put the establishment of MPAs off of Palos Verdes in jeopardy, which would destroy the connectivity of the Southern California network.
Fortunately, it appears that the newly constituted Fish and Game Commission is committed to following the MLPA law and policy guidance to institute a network of MPAs in Southern California in a timely manner. It remains to be seen whether this commission will take a strong science-based approach to creating a network, or a more compromised position that neglects evaluations made by the Science Advisory Team.
All of this drama will definitely add to the intensity of the commission hearing on Oct. 20 in San Diego. San Diego has always been a hotbed for sport and commercial fishing. Look for a huge black shirt turnout to push the commission to weaken the MPAs under consideration and ask for yet another delay in the approval process.
For the sake of marine life in the Southern California bight, there needs to be a large turnout from those that believe in the MLPA and marine conservation. This should be the last big public hearing before the final commission vote in December.