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Let's Clear Up a Few Things About National Marine Sanctuaries

by  Andrew Christe, Santa Lucia Chapter Director, Sierra Club
Brad Snook, Chair, Surfrider Foundation San Luis Obispo
P.J. Webb, former member, SLO County Marine Interests Group

SLO Coast Journal readers may remember the repeated efforts by the Bureau of Reclamation to run a pipeline out from the San Joaquin Valley to dump toxic, selenium-tainted ag waste water into Estero Bay.

They may not remember that another proposed route for the pipeline about ten miles north would have dumped that toxic load in the waters off Cambria. This option was rejected in the environmental review process, for one reason: because that site would have been within the boundaries of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary – no toxic dumping allowed.

Readers are also likely aware that no political season for the foreseeable future will be complete without some variation of "drill, baby, drill," "drill here, drill now," or some other way to phrase the expansion of off-shore oil drilling, always accompanied by solemn promises by oil companies not to spill another drop (or, if they do, they'll clean that right up, no problem, you betcha).

But the Santa Barbara waters around the Channel Islands, as well as the marine life off Santa Cruz and Monterey, all the way to the Gulf of the Farallones, need not worry. They are within the boundaries of national marine sanctuaries – no more drilling allowed.

Guess who's the hole in that doughnut?

There's only one thing that can protect the waters of the central coast from these threats; one permanent federal designation, not blown by political winds or otherwise subject to whatever party happens to be in power at any moment: National Marine Sanctuary designation.

The above examples are things national marine sanctuaries actually do, not projections about what, in the opinion of some folks, a sanctuary theoretically might do, but hasn't. Which brings us to the campaign of Mr. Tom Roff to convince readers of the SLO Coast Journal that they don't need the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary (MBNMS) to expand to include the SLO coast.

In his articles, Mr. Roff attempts to depict research, such as the Sanctuary's Essential Fish Habitat review, as regulation. In all his references to "our community" and "the local communities" allegedly banding together to reject the idea of a marine sanctuary off SLO County, Mr. Roff is actually referring to the success of commercial fishing interests in exerting political pressure, as when it ensured that "the Morro Bay City Council voted not to support an expansion of MBNMS to our area."

Mr. Roff repeatedly cites the work of the SLO Marine Interests Group (MIG), which existed from 2003-2011, as though it were a popularly elected parliamentary body that enacted the will of the people. It wasn't. The MIG was stacked with seats for every conceivable aspect of the fishing industry, which resulted in a sufficient number of votes to turn the attentions of the MIG away from consideration of marine sanctuary expansion. (MIG member Leslie Krinsk wrote that the work of the MIG "was perverted by three factors: an atmosphere of forced consensus; dominance of the extractive/exploitive users; and a paucity of local coastal data, used as an excuse for ‘business as usual.'" )

Even so, Mr. Roff's repeated statements to the effect that the MIG concluded "that MBNMS was not suited to manage our area" and "wasn't in the best interests of our communities" are false. In his articles, Mr. Roff supplied a link to the Jan. 20, 2004, Marine Interests Group Progress Report, which he offers as support for the conclusions he attributes to the MIG. But this document does not contain any such statement, and the MIG never issued such a statement. The document does, however, state that the MIG's Working Committee concluded that "the MBNMS has not directly impacted fishing regulation."  In a MIG poll of the members on "options considered for pursuing selected actions," the options for "extension of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary" and "creation of a new National Marine Sanctuary for the San Luis Obispo County area" collectively received more first-place votes than any other measure proposed to "best fulfill the Shared Hopes for the Future of the Marine Resources."

Mr. Roff asserts that the "County Board of Supervisors aren't interested [in a National Marine Sanctuary]." In reality, it is the official policy of San Luis Obispo County to work with federal officials and agencies to study the possibility of expansion of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. The most recent update of the County's General Plan, approved by the Board of Supervisors in 2010, includes a provision to secure permanent protection and management of the County's ecologically and economically significant marine resources using the National Marine Sanctuary, National Estuary, or other programs and legislation as vehicles for protection and management.

Mr. Roff points out that the central coast is different from Santa Cruz and Monterey. Indeed it is. That's why the County of San Luis Obispo, when it formally submitted a proposal that central coastal waters be included in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's evaluation list of suitable sites for future sanctuaries, noted this region's unique ecological and biological characteristics and productivity; an ecosystem with a mixture of marine mammals, fish, shellfish, and plant species that is found nowhere else in the Pacific Basin. They also noted that terms of management and protection are negotiable and that the sanctuary designation process unfolds across the full range of issues – habitat, species protection, fisheries and other resource issues, scenic and aesthetic concerns, tourism and scientific research. Considerable public input would be included in drafting a management plan in which terms of oversight and protection for habitat and resources would be established.

Another way in which Monterey and Santa Cruz differ from San Luis Obispo, as pointed out by Dr. Chris Harrold, Chair of the Sanctuary Advisory Committee, at the February 25 marine sanctuary panel discussion in Avila Beach, is in the fact that the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary provides opportunities for two dozen marine science facilities, which employ about 2,000 people, with a combined budget of over $200 million. 

The ways in which the central coast is the same as Santa Cruz and Monterey include the need for basic protections against toxic discharge into the marine environment; disturbance of, construction on, or alteration of the seabed; disturbance of cultural resources; and new development for the production of oil, gas, or minerals. Sanctuary designation provides this.  And, as SLO County stated in its original proposal to grant sanctuary status to the waters off the Central California coast, "Sanctuary designation offers integrated management, a means of resolving issues, and promotion of education and research. It results in specific protection for habitat and resources."

Mr. Roff, cherry-picking quotes and interpreting for the reader what was said at that February 25 marine sanctuary panel discussion in Avila Beach, asserts that Dr. Harrold said "that the Monterey fishermen were no longer on board" with the Sanctuary.

Here's the rest of what Dr. Harrold said, after pointing out that the Sanctuary has never imposed any regulations on fishing:

"There is I think a growing feeling, especially among younger fishermen that have a different perspective [and are] willing to step out of the old paradigm that ‘the Sanctuary is going to hurt us,' [that] the Sanctuary was actually a positive benefit for them. The main problem with the commercial fishing industry is they are just getting hammered from so many different directions. There's been a 70 percent reduction in the number of fishing vessels in the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary from 1992 to the present. Fishermen that come from Sicily and Italy and are in their seventies and eighties look at that and say ‘Look what the Sanctuary did to us!' I've heard this. I heard this in a city council meeting: ‘Look what the Sanctuary did. Before they came here, there were a hundred boats and now there's less than thirty.' So there's this view that ‘the Sanctuary is the federal government, federal government is regulation, regulation hurts us, therefore it's the Sanctuary's fault.'… I think if an objective person investigated this idea, they'd see that sanctuaries are actually friends of commercial fishing."

Go here for a snapshot of the economic effects of national marine sanctuaries on fisheries nationwide.

And rather than read someone's interpretation of what was said at that highly informative panel discussion, we invite SLO Coast Journal readers to watch it themselves and listen to the entire discussion

And for an even more expansive picture of the full benefits of National Marine Sanctuary designation, of course, nothing beats going right to the source.

We urge the readers of the SLO Coast Journal to seek out independent and reliable sources of information on this subject. When they do, we believe they will support the worthy goal of national marine sanctuary protection for the central coast. 

Belted Kingfisher on Banner by Cleve Nash
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Let's Clear Up a Few Things About National Marine Sanctuaries

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