MPA Opponents See Sacramento Hearing as Chance to Change Final Plan
• Implementation Continues to Move Forward Despite Eleventh-Hour Fishing Advocates' Lawsuit
BY SUZANNE GULDIMANN
Opponents of the Marine Life Protection Act's South Coast Study Region's Marine Protected Areas say they are hoping a hearing arranged by Assemblymember Wesley Chesbro (D-Arcata), the chair of the Joint Legislative Committee on Fisheries and Aquaculture, will offer them an opportunity to influence the legislature to modify the plan approved last year
As part of the language of the MLPA Initiative passed by the state Legislature in 1999, the Committee on Fisheries and Aquaculture is charged with providing oversight for the MPA Draft Master Plan and can recommend changes, if required, within 60 days of the plan's approval. However, the hearing appears to be regarded by most as a formality.
The two-hour meeting, which will include a presentation by the California Department of Fish and Game and MLPA Initiative staff on the South Coast Region's MPA plan, followed by public comment, will be held at the State Capitol in Sacramento on Thursday, Feb. 17 at 10 a.m.
"This is an opportunity for everyone who has an interest in the Marine Life Protection Act on the South Coast to talk to the Legislature," Chesbro stated in a press release. "The Joint Fisheries Committee will be meeting its responsibility to provide oversight of the Marine Life Protection Act."
"It's an opportunity for speaking directly to the legislature," Andrew Bird, Chesbro's communication director, told the Malibu Surfside News.
Bird said that the public is encouraged to express their concerns at the event, but that as far as he knew, changing the final South Coast Region MPA plan was "not what the hearing was about."
Various fishing organizations are encouraging their members to attend the Feb. 17 meeting in Sacramento to oppose the plan that would place several popular kayak and dive fishing areas, including the area located between the west end of Paradise Cove to the outflow of Zuma Creek, off limits for recreational and commercial fishing as part of the state-mandated system of MPAs.
Many fishing advocacy groups and blogs soliciting donations from recreational fishers to help fund a lawsuit filed last month in San Diego Superior Court by a coalition of fishing interests, including United Anglers of Southern California, who are seeking to overturn South Coast and North Central Coast MLPA MPAs.
The suit alleges that the California Fish and Game Commission "does not have the statutory authority to adopt, modify or delete marine protected areas under the MLPA's main rule making provisions until it has approved a final Master Plan for the state," and that "The South Coast study region regulations were adopted on the basis of an environmental review process that is in violation of CEQA," among other contentions and accusations of corruption.
Observes say the case is unlikely to be heard before the South Coast Region's MPA's become a reality in mid-2011.
In the next step towards implementing the South Coast Region's plan, California Sea Grant has published the official request for proposals for the South Coast Marine Protected Areas Baseline Program.
The proposal due date is Thursday, April 7. The OPC has authorized up to $4 million to support the baseline program.
According to the press release, the purposes of the Baseline Program are: "To provide a summary description, assessment and understanding of ecological and socioeconomic conditions in the South Coast region, inside and outside MPAs designated under the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA), at or near the time of MPA implementation; and to measure initial ecological changes and the short-run net benefits or costs to consumptive and non-consumptive user groups following MPA implementation."
The Sea Grant awards are expected to be made in July 2011, ahead of the official MPA implementation. Further details will be posted at www.csgc.ucsd.edu.