Thursday, November 30, 2006
In 2001, the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary set out to update its nine-year-old management plan. Five years and untold headaches later, a draft of the plan is ready. One more round of public comments, ending Jan. 5, 2007, and the sanctuary will have a new set of guidelines.
Most of the 22 “action plans” outlined in the phone book-sized document fall into the category of recommendations rather than rules. For example, the sanctuary wants to reduce coastal armoring (the building of seawalls, often with unintended consequences for neighboring beaches) by exploring alternatives and working with planners. The plan takes a similar approach to water quality, tide pool protection and a dozen other issues. “Monitoring” and “education” are the watchwords—hardly the stuff of controversy.
But the plan is not without its lightning rods. The most contentious issue is the plan’s recommendation to explore whether Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) would help preserve the creatures and habitats of the sanctuary. MPAs are zones where fishing is limited or banned. As a rule, fishermen don’t like them.
This year the California Fish and Game Commission approved 29 MPAs along the coast in state waters, which extend three miles offshore. Sanctuary-designated MPAs, if they ever came about, could be positioned as far as 60 miles offshore.
That’s a big if, says sanctuary spokeswoman Rachel Saunders. “We’re not proposing MPAs,” she says. “We’re proposing looking at them.”
The draft plan does propose a few new hard-and-fast rules, several of which take their cues from state laws. Among these are bans on chumming (the practice of baiting sharks), the introduction of nonnative species and discharges by cruise ships.
One hot-button issue is the sanctuary’s renewed ban on jet skis. Jet skis today are behemoths that years ago outgrew the sanctuary’s narrow definition, leaving a legal loophole that tow-in surfers and others merrily exploited. Along with a corrected definition that reiterates the ban, the sanctuary is considering a permit to allow tow-in surfing at Mavericks.
Finally, the plan proposes putting the Davidson Seamount under sanctuary protection. Described by Saunders as “an underwater Mt. Shasta,” it’s a hotspot of marine biodiversity and one of the world’s largest seamounts. It would expand the sanctuary’s area by about 15 percent.
THE PUBLIC CAN COMMENT ON THE NEW PLAN 6:30PM, THURSDAY, NOV. 30, AT MONTEREY CONFERENCE CENTER, 1 PORTOLA PLAZA, MONTEREY, AND AT 6:30PM DEC. 5 AT THE UC SANTA CRUZ INN, 611 OCEAN ST., SANTA CRUZ.