MPAs Get a Chance to Work

Point Dume

Portions of Malibu's Point Dume are part of SoCal's new network of Marine Protected Areas

Yesterday, the California Department of Fish and Game boldly approved the official initiation of the Southern California Marine Protected Area (MPA) network. Despite the ongoing threat of litigation from fishing industry opponents, the Commission approved the October 1st start date by a 4-1 vote.

This means that the SoCal MPA network requirements will be enforceable starting this October. Fish and Game, along with community groups, environmental groups, aquaria, educational institutions, and the many groups that have been following the MPA process over the past several years, need to really focus on public education over the summer. In particular, a targeted effort on educating the wide-ranging fishing and broader ocean user community is critical for two reasons: 1 – to dispel fears of use restrictions in MPAs (for example – non-consumptive uses like surfing, diving and kayaking are NOT limited); and 2 – to provide accurate information on the consumptive use (fishing) restrictions in marine reserves (no take of any marine life) and marine conservation areas (limited take – usually affecting only the commercial fishing industry).

Meanwhile, Heal the Bay will continue its research on how the Malibu MPAs and adjacent coastal waters are used by visitors and commercial fishermen. This baseline data will prove critical as a point of comparison to assess changes in consumptive and non-consumptive uses in the new MPAs and adjacent waters.  If you’re interested in walking Malibu’s beaches and observing and tracking uses for this research effort, visit our site to get involved.

The recent Census of Marine Life findings that the CA Current has incredibly rich species diversity, equivalent to the Serengheti of the sea, as well as the International Earth System Expert Workshop results warning of pending marine species collapse, show the importance of these MPAs.

As the new MPAs take effect this fall, we should celebrate this historic move to help safeguard SoCal’s ocean economy and environment for the future.

Mapping a Life’s Work

Guest blogger Sarah Sikich, Heal the Bay’s director of coastal resources, offers some advice on navigating the backroom battles of environmental policy-making. She served on a stakeholder panel that helped negotiate a highly contentious network of marine protected areas in Southern California.
 
The holiday season continues with the recognition of a little-known holiday, Underwater Parks Day, this weekend. And, this year we have a lot to celebrate. The California Fish and Game Commission made history last month by adopting the first network of marine protected areas (MPAs) for Southern California, marking our region’s first system of underwater parks. As a staff scientist at Heal the Bay, I played a role in the often contentious efforts to assemble the MPA maps, which set aside strategic sections of our shoreline for protection from fishing and other consumptive uses.

Sikich exploring boundaries off Point Dume

It will take years for the full history of our work to be written, but in the spirit of New Year’s introspection, I’ve been reflecting about the grueling but rewarding process. I’ve felt a slew of emotions – overwhelmed (in a positive way), pride and a smidge of disbelief. I had studied and educated about MPAs for over a decade, as a lowly undergrad at the University of New Hampshire, teaching at the Catalina Island Marine Institute, and then conducting my graduate research at U.C. Santa Barbara. And then I got to play an active role in the actual implementation of MPAs in Southern California. It isn’t every day that you to get to fulfill a professional dream.

As a member of the South Coast Regional Stakeholder Group — one of 64 individuals appointed to represent interests including commercial and recreational fishing, conservationists, local officials, and educators — I’ve spent hundreds of hours of personal and professional time over the past several years researching the South Coast, negotiating boundaries and creating MPA proposals that ultimately influenced the final Fish and Game decision. This is the hardest thing I’ve ever gone through professionally, and I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that there were moments I considered quitting the process.

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A December to Remember

Packages

Who's naughty or nice? This holiday season holds the promise of great gifts for the regional environment

December brings connotations of the holiday season.  Office parties, vacations, holiday shopping, football bowl games, family gatherings, overeating, lighting the menorah, and Christmas lights and trees.  For Heal the Bay, this December is anything but a time to ease into the new year.  As always, there is our push for year-end giving.  Tis the season for charitable write offs.  Also, once again, Heal the Bay is spearheading the Day Without a Bag event.  Over 25,000 bags will be given away at over 150 locations throughout L.A. County on Dec. 16 as a reminder to bring reusable bags whenever you go shopping.  Once again, partners include L.A. County, Los Angeles, other cities, retailers, grocers and other environmental groups.  This year, the event has spread across much of the state with counties from San Diego to San Francisco participating.

However, this December is as busy as any previous December I can remember.  Continue reading

Playing Politics with MPAs

Palos Verdes' Rocky Point: a political pawn

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. 

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Fight the Power

Once Through Cooling plants suck the life out of the ocean

Once Through Cooling plants suck the life out of the ocean

I just sat through a seven-hour workshop on the State Water Board’s long-awaited Once Through Cooling power plant policy for California. Arguably, this may be the most important coastal resource protection action in California this year. State Water Board staff put together a draft policy that could finally hold the power industry accountable for decades of non-compliance with the Clean Water Act. In essence, the policy requires OTC plants to comply with Section 316b of the Act and greatly reduce their impacts on fisheries and marine life. These plants use ancient steam generation technologies that literally suck the life out of the ocean. Fish are caught on screens and larvae and eggs get cooked in the plant.

The many speakers who showed up largely stuck to their scripts. The enviro community came out en masse (Keepers, NRDC, Surfrider, Sierra Club, and Heal the Bay) and largely supported most of the draft policy with a strong call for policy simplification and the elimination of giant compliance loopholes. The strength behind the enviro position came from the Second Circuit Federal Court of Appeals on the Riverkeeper I and II cases. Our positions are also supported by the Supreme Court. Continue reading

A Reel Win

happy fishCall Ripley’s.  Sacramento finally got something right. On Wednesday the California Fish and Game Commission adopted a plan to create 24 marine protected areas (MPAs) along California’s north-central coast between Santa Cruz County and Mendocino Counties. These MPAs will protect about 86 square miles of coastal waters, but still leave 90% open to fishing.

The approved plan was a result of environmentalists and fishermen working together within the Marine Life Protection Act process. When it comes to protecting fish, these groups don’t always see eye to eye.  Despite these differences, they assembled a plan that included substantial compromise on all sides. The plan protects marine life AND keeps fishermen afloat.

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