SM BAY — With sea life being threatened daily, environmentalists, fishermen and other interest groups proposed competing visions this week of a network of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) slated for establishment off the coast.
“MPAs function a lot like national or state parks,” said Sarah Sikich, Heal the Bay’s coastal resources director and one of 64 stakeholders in the south coast region. “They restrict the take of marine life in those areas to allow them to recover.”
Sikich said the global fish population is at 10 percent of what it used to be and commercial fishing in Los Angeles is down 50 percent since just 1990. But despite the overwhelming need, very few MPAs currently exist. Those that do — around 80 when the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) initiative was passed in 1999 — were created over almost a century by many different organizations, so they don’t function as a network.
“It was really just a mess,” said Melissa Miller-Henson, program manager for the initiative.
The act designated six goals to change all that — but very little has been accomplished so far.
The current process began last September. Tuesday’s and today’s meetings at the Sheraton-Delfina in Santa Monica reflect the end of round two of three revisions. A final vote will be held in October, and then recommendations will be passed on to the California Fish and Game Commission, which regulates fishing.
“Those regulations are set by species — they don’t take into account interactions within an ecosystem,” Sikich said.
The six proposals aren’t doing much better, she added.
“The proposals currently being considered fall short of the science guidelines,” she said. “It’s important in round three that we make changes to the proposals so that they perform better.”
Stakeholder John Balotti, a member of the L.A. Rod and Reel Club, speaks for the interests of recreational angler fishermen. He agreed that the proposals are still a work in progress.
“We’re looking for a balance between economic and environmental impacts,” he said.
The Blue Ribbon Task Force, established at the act’s passage, oversees the proposal process and will vote on the final recommendations.
“We try to look at all interests and make sure they are addressed at some point in the process,” Miller-Henson said.
Balotti said that fishing is only part of the problem, though.
“The ocean should be managed as a sustainable resource,” he said. “However, the process doesn’t take into account lots of factors that impact habitat protection, including water quality.”
Miller-Henson said that other organizations — such as state and regional water control boards — hold all the cards when it comes to addressing water quality concerns.
“We’re not ignoring it,” she added, citing recommendations made by the science advisory team regarding the issue.
The south coast region, from Point Conception to the Mexican border, will be the third of five regions to make recommendations to the commission. In the first two regions, Sikich said, only about 9 percent of the ocean was placed under protection.
“This is not about setting aside the majority of the ocean from fishing,” she said. “It’s about benefiting the future of coastal ecosystems and the future of fishing.”
Today’s meeting starts at 8 a.m. at the Sheraton Delfina. Those who are unable to attend meetings, call or e-mail to share their concerns regarding the MLPA initiative at (916) 654-1885 or firstname.lastname@example.org.