Thursday, August 1, 2002
There is the kindergarten art-class truism that if you take all the colors in the paint set and mix them up, you end up with brown. The result is wholly unsatisfying.
The same might be true for the effort to draft new rules and regulations for the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary (MBNMS), the nation''s largest oceanic preserve. According to sources close to the process, the search for the way to use and protect 5,300 square miles of sea from Marin County to Cambria is getting as muddled as a preschooler''s palette.
At this point in the plan review, the Sanctuary staff has sorted through thousands of emails, letters, phone calls and public comments gathered in so-called "scoping" meetings over the winter. The results have been distilled and put into a report for review by the Sanctuary Advisory Council (SAC), a citizens'' group which counsels the MBNMS on policy.
Finding priorities and the balance between conflicting interests would be hard enough, but to complicate matters, the Sanctuary review looks not only at the Monterey Bay Sanctuary, but also at the neighboring Cordell Bank and Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuaries. The decision to combine the three sanctuaries for review is being blamed for some of the muddle.
Some issues-such as plans for a cohesive response to oil spills-clearly cut across sanctuary boundaries. Other issues are exclusive to each sanctuary. Kelp harvesting rules are important in the MBNMS, but not in Gulf of the Farallones NMS north of San Francisco. Oyster farming is high on the list up there but not here.
A report was released in July on issues among the three sanctuaries together and separately. Some of the previous clarity has blurred.
Representatives of local user groups all have very specific changes they are anxious to see addressed.
A commercial fisherman from Santa Cruz, Tom Canale represents fishing interests on the council.
"As far as I''m concerned, the process has been agonizingly slow. It''s hard to describe. It''s like not making progress," says Canale, a member of the Monterey Bay SAC.
Under the management plan review all rules and proposals are on the table, so that a year from now the Sanctuary can be overhauled on a grand scale or merely tweaked here and there.
Technically, the Sanctuary does not regulate fishing, but it is under pressure from environmental groups to protect the marine ecosystem by establishing no-fishing zones. The decision on whether commercial fishing will be left alone, scaled back or banned in certain areas of the Sanctuary is pivotal.
"We would like to see the fishing issue resolved, that they''re not supposed to be in fisheries management," Canale says. "We''d like to see them state that and move on from there."
Stephanie Harlan chairs the Monterey Bay SAC. A nurse, she''s also a Capitola city councilmember and representative to AMBAG. She is less critical but cautious.
"I think the big topics are being identified we''ve said biodiversity protection, water quality, public education and monitoring fishing are some of our big issues," she says.
In addition to the topics Harlan identifies, the potential prohibition of jet-skis from the Sanctuary has created friction, as a handful of surfers rely on them to access the legendary "Mavericks" area off Half Moon Bay. Also, the arrival of cruise ships in the Monterey Bay sparked conservationists to call for a ban on sewage dumping by the ships in Sanctuary waters.
Finally, there remains the chance that the boundaries of the MBNMS could be adjusted to include Morro Bay, the unique Davidson Seamount, and possibly less territory in the north.
After more review and refinement, the management plans should be completed in draft form in late summer 2003. Whether or not the Sanctuary has enough staff to run its vast operation while compiling a new management plan has also been questioned.
For conservationists, whatever plan is drafted had better be very clear about protection of biodiversity. With evidence mounting that some fisheries here and elsewhere are collapsing, conservation groups have launched a massive campaign for the establishment of marine protected areas in the MBNMS. Such no-fishing zones are being implemented by the state in coastal waters. Two other national marine sanctuaries, in the Florida Keys and in the Channel Islands off Santa Barbara have already closed off large areas to fishing.
Kaitilin Gaffney of the Ocean Conservancy also sits on the SAC. Her organization holds the Sanctuary to its mission of resource protection, and therefore wants to see the establishment of no-fishing zones here.
"I think basically what we need to do is get real clear about where the threats to the Sanctuary are, and how we address them," she says. "It''s the things you put in [the ocean] and the things you take out The Sanctuary has responsibility for the whole ecosystem and fish are a component of that ecosystem."
She fears that the vast and cumbersome process-in addition to the inclusion of the two neighboring sanctuaries-might make it less likely that this clarity will be achieved.