|Published: August 06, 2008
California Needs a Balanced, Scientific Plan for Ocean Protection
By Vern Goehring
Governor Schwarzenegger recently joined the governors of Oregon and Washington to announce ambitious goals to safeguard critical marine resources along the West Coast.
Among other things, the plan calls for cleaning up coastal waters, restoring fisheries, combating climate change, reducing the impacts of offshore development and fostering economic development in coastal communities.
These are all laudable ambitions that, if done correctly, can make a real difference to protect the Pacific Ocean off these state's coasts and sustain marine resources.
But protecting these important resources will take more than an announcement from three governors. We've heard these bold statements and goals before, but the follow through has always fallen short. Rather than looking at the full range of impacts on the ocean, officials have singled out one thing or another in adopting new, narrow regulations. Usually it's the thing of least benefit and least resistance.
These piecemeal approaches certainly give the appearance of progress, but don't do the real work of identifying and equitably addressing the problems facing the Pacific.
Coastal development and the many other things that deliver pollution to our ocean from land have been largely ignored; for example California is far behind where it should be in enforcing the Clean Water Act. Instead, the focus has largely been on closing off parts of the ocean to fishing - recreational and family-run fishing businesses alike.
Sometimes this is done as a needless precaution, many times, however, as a last ditch effort to cover up a failure to address the real problems - remember the extreme closures of Klamath River and Sacramento River salmon fishing in recent years.
Ironically, fishing already is one of the most highly regulated activities involving the ocean. New regulations imposed recently add one thing - redundancy - but bring little environmental benefit. People who spend every day on the ocean waters and who study and know our oceans find their input rejected out of hand by decision makers with little real world experience.
What's more, communities that depend on fishing and tourism suffer under unbalanced regulations. Since the enactment of ocean closures along the central coast of California , commerce and tourism in places like Morro Bay are down significantly.
Local families who fish for themselves or to provide fresh seafood to California 's citizens are not the problem and shouldn't bear the brunt of any short-sighted policies that provide an illusion of protection and let the real culprits off the hook. The vibrancy of our coastal harbor and beach communities and thousands of family jobs depend on a balanced approach and timely protections.
Recent polls show that most people strongly agree.
A 2007 poll for the Alliance of Communities for Sustainable Fisheries shows that two-thirds of Californians support small, independent fishermen and recreational fishing activities. Californians don't think fishing is the primary threat to our oceans. Instead they support allowing fishing throughout the State - backed up with science-based limits to ensure sustainable harvest.
Californians want smart management of marine ecosystems and fish resources, not total ocean closures that simply hurt local economies without delivering real environmental benefits.
The three governors' ocean announcement can be a new beginning for our ocean waters and the communities that depend on clean oceans and clean beaches.
California leaders involved in this important effort should commit themselves to evaluating all the impacts on our ocean waters and crafting fair, equitable solutions that preserve a balance: healthy oceans, sustainable seafood resources and economically strong coastal and harbor communities.
We've been given a chance to make history rather than repeat failed attempts to equitably look at the real problems facing our ocean.
If we fail again, we may forever harm our ocean and everyone that depends on clean ocean waters and abundant marine resources. If we succeed, we will deliver a cleaner ocean for future generations - and thriving ocean communities as well.
Vern Goehring is manager of the California Fisheries Coalition, an association of 26 marine-related organizations whose members advocate for cleaner oceans and sustainable marine resources, and contribute more than $5.5 billion annually to the state's economy. Please see www.cafisheriescoalition.org for more information.
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