WatchSonoma Watch

Proposal would create marine protection areas from Mendocino to Oregon



After years of meetings, some protests and what many are calling a rare consensus among sometimes-opposing factions, a draft

The picturesque coast off the Navarro River estuary, Saturday, March 3, 2012. (KENT PORTER/ PD)

proposal to establish a chain of ocean wilderness areas from Mendocino County north to the Oregon border was unveiled last week by state officials.

It would set aside 19 marine protected areas encompassing about 136 square miles from just north of Point Arena to the state line, a distance of about 225 miles.

The proposed network of state reserves and conservation zones includes four existing areas and 15 new ones. It would restrict or ban fishing in about 13 percent of state waters along Mendocino, Humboldt and Del Norte counties.

PHOTOS: Marine Protection Areas

Fishermen, environmental leaders and others who helped select the areas said they were meant to maximize protection of sensitive ecosystems while minimizing impacts on the coastal economy.

They include reserves off Ten Mile Beach and Cape Mendocino north of Fort Bragg, about a half-dozen conservation areas near the mouths of rivers and zones to protect offshore reefs and rocks.

Most were kept away from harbors or other frequented near-shore areas.

“We made accommodations and set it up in a way that would try to meet everyone’s needs,” said Dave Jensen, president of the Mendocino Coast Audubon Society, one of several environmental groups involved in the process.

The compromise, many of those involved said, makes the North Coast an outlier in the bruising process that kicked off after a 1999 state law called for a redesign — effectively an expansion — of California’s network of protected marine areas.

Work in recent years on the rest of the coast south of Mendocino — including the stretch from Sonoma County to Pigeon Point, in southern San Mateo County — produced pitched battles over the number and extent of ocean areas that should be off-limits or have restrictions on human activity.

Fishing interests saw a threat to their industry and sought to limit the reserves, while conservation supporters fought for more ocean wilderness, touting ecological benefits they said would boost fish stocks.

Fishermen have remained skeptical of those claims. Their concerns fired North Coast meetings, several of which featured protests, including demonstrations by tribal members opposed to restrictions on their rights to use ancestral fishing grounds.

But where passions led those in other regions to put forward dueling plans, representatives of various North Coast interests forged an agreement around a single vision for the future marine areas.

Some credited the outcome to the evolving, crossbred identity of the region, which has long relied on the sea and forests for jobs, but also has served in recent decades as an outpost of environmental activism.

“Most of us have interests that are on both sides of the table,” said Jensen, the Audubon leader. “We all live in the same small communities.”

Others said it was the result of a hands-on approach by local representatives.

“A lot of the battle was to get the state to accept that the conditions up here were unique,” said Adam Wagschal, who represented the Humboldt Bay Harbor District on a stakeholder panel that included tribal leaders, sport and commercial fishermen, seafood vendors, kelp harvesters, abalone divers and environmental advocates.

He called the compromise “incredible,” an assessment echoed by other participants and observers last week when the state Department of Fish and Game released a draft environmental impact report for the North Coast marine areas. The step started a 45-day public comment period that will feature hearings in Fort Bragg, Crescent City and Eureka.

All sides made significant concessions in the proposal, those involved said.

Environmental interests said it offered less protected areas than they would have wanted, and fishermen said it set aside more grounds than they would have preferred.

“It wasn’t smooth sailing all the way,” said John Gebers, owner of the Noyo Fishing Center, the Fort Bragg tackle shop and charter boat agency. “I won’t stand here and say we’re all happy with it.”

He nevertheless called the proposal “pretty darn impressive.”

It left unanswered a significant question for tribes, who want unfettered access to the protected areas, including the reserves where fishing would be banned, to continue traditional harvesting practices.

About two dozen tribes and tribal communities are pushing the state Fish and Game Commission to allow for those uses — an exception not granted elsewhere along the coast.

The tribes have backed the proposal in concept, if not in final form, while reserving the right to challenge a larger question, the state’s authority over their fishing rights, said John Corbett, attorney for the Yurok tribe.

“We haven’t signed off,” Corbett said, “but we’re making a lot of progress toward something we can agree on.”

State and local government officials said they are optimistic about reaching an agreement with the tribes but could not offer further details.

The proposal also has its share of doubters.

Jim Burns, commissioner of Fort Bragg’s Noyo Harbor, resigned from the stakeholder panel last year, protesting what he said was the lack of any baseline research that could prove the value of protected areas for improving fisheries.

“How can you tell the program is good or bad if you don’t have a benchmark?” Burns said. “It didn’t make sense to me.”

Still, defiant voices appear to be a minority on the North Coast. The region’s late order in the statewide process — it is the fourth of five regions to draft plans for marine areas, the last being interior San Francisco Bay — may have been a factor, some observers suggested.

Many fishermen to the south have made their peace with the reserves, and word gets out.

“So far, it really hasn’t presented a problem,” said Rick Powers, a Bodega Bay charter boat captain. He said compliance appeared to be “excellent” with the 21 protected areas on the coastal stretch that includes Sonoma County — what the state calls the North Central Coast, from Point Arena to Pigeon Point, north of Santa Cruz.

Altogether, the California coastline now has more than 124 marine protected areas covering about 848 square miles, or about 16 percent of coastal waters.

“It hasn’t hampered our efforts,” Powers said, “and although I can’t speak for them, most of the commercial fishermen would probably agree.”

You can reach Staff Writer Brett Wilkison at 521-5295 or brett.wilkison@pressdemocrat.com.

8 Responses to “Proposal would create marine protection areas from Mendocino to Oregon”

  1. Don Lipmanson says:

    A ton of research – much of it coming from University of Washington – shows how effective “no-take” marine sanctuaries can be in allowing fish to reach a size where their reproductive (i.e. spawning) capacity becomes maximal. But the scientific evidence shows that to work, these sanctuaries must be carefully chosen based on complex factors like bottom conditions, currents and adequate size of the protected zone.

    Older, larger females tend to produce at least an order of magnitude more eggs than the younger, smaller ones. I’ve seen this effect while scuba diving in protected areas in the Caribbean and parts of the Western Pacific (Papua New Guinea, Hawaii toward Ni’i'hau). Marine sanctuaries can provide places where fish can reach maximum reproductive capacity.
    So sanctuaries can be of long-term benefit to commercial and sports fishermen by providing a nursery for juvenile pelagic species, which eventually migrate outside the protected area.

    As for indigenous concerns, it should be remembered that many species went extinct as Polynesians migrated eastward to previously unoccupied Pacific islands. In an era of declining if not collapsing ecosystems, everyone will need to give up some favorite past practices, be it endless driving or gill-netting salmonids.

    Having been involved (as Mendocino County 5th District Planning Commissioner) in the Fort Bragg region’s Marine Protection Act workshops before they were de-funded some years back, my thanks go to all the stakeholders who devoted lots of unpaid time and energy to the tough challenge of designating marine sanctuaries along the CA coast.

    Thumb up 1 Thumb down 2

  2. MOCKINGBIRD says:

    Bennett, just tired of Agency 21 conspiracy theorists. You miss my point. Someone can live in paradise and not be able to see that paradise around them. At one time I could not. Now I can. Now I’m worried it will soon be gone.

    Western Cluebird-Mockingbirds attack other birds to keep their babies from being eaten. And a bird lover wouldn’t mind the mess as it’s easily cleaned up.

    Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

  3. Western Cluebird says:

    I used to think that Mockingbirds were
    Kinda cool.
    Then one built a nest in my tree.
    The mess they make and the agressive way they attack other birds helps one to see what they are really all about.

    Thumb up 4 Thumb down 4

  4. Jim Bennett says:

    are we talking about birds or oppression?

    Are you disputing the epidemic of open space restrictions?

    Or saying that nature lovers that have lived there for years are clueless?

    Love nature, love our freedoms.

    Thumb up 2 Thumb down 3

  5. MOCKINGBIRD says:

    Bennett-maybe some of the locals don’t know a snowy plover from any of the other peeps on the shore. When I was young I lived on the coast and didn’t know one bird from another. Now I do. I’ve seen snowy plovers on the coast. One has to know what one is looking at. One has to know how to SEE.
    There are all kinds of classes in the area that people can attend to learn about the world that surrounds them. Or go on an Audobon society hike with people who know what they are seeing and can teach you to appreciate the natural world.
    In other words, get a clue.

    Thumb up 7 Thumb down 7

  6. Jim Bennett says:

    More Agenda 21.
    Up north residents are not allowed on the beach because they might upset the mating habits of a little bird even astute locals claim they’ve never seen;
    the’Snowy Plover’if memory serves.

    This is all persuant to the Wildlands Project
    Which is 100% A21.

    This eco-fascist extremism employs the ‘Precautionary Principal’ which says that if a certain human action ‘might’ harm the environment, (as reconciled by them) in the absense of scientific consensus, the burdon of proof otherwise lies on humans taking the acton.
    This postulate favors the environment over us as yet another forfeiture of our Constitutional Rights.
    This is fundamentally in opposition of same.
    This is communitariun ideology employed by oppressors.
    The ‘collective’, the ‘greater good’(Gaia) takes president in the wake of whatever ‘science’ they contrive.

    Green is the guise ’till we open our eyes and realize, that control is how they really roll.

    Thumb up 5 Thumb down 7

  7. Sarkyfish says:

    Non democratic, beach bureaucracy gets ready to put up no fishing signs and tell you where you can and probably can’t put your beach blanket. There will be a beach cop in your future.

    Thumb up 9 Thumb down 8

  8. Follower says:

    Having become admittedly shell shocked by the enviro-nazis’ outrageous abuses of power over the years and my “knee-jerk reaction” is to oppose this kind of Government takeover however…

    As someone who has fished the Sonoma/Mendo coast for over 30 years (from shore) I have seen for myself the effects of regulation of these pristine areas and I have to admit, it works as advertised.
    Marine life has clearly boomed in the areas I fish since the fishing was regulated. This may simply be a coincidence but until I see proof of that I’ll support this type of regulation.

    My position remains one of caution.

    “Trust but verify” because the Environmentalists have proven over & over again that they will lie through their teeth to get their way.

    Regulation needs to be supported when it makes sense & WORKS. But the “regulators” need to be regulated and WE are the only ones who can do that.

    Thumb up 13 Thumb down 2

Leave a Reply