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Local News

Santa Barbara Wades Into Initiative to Protect State’s Marine Areas

The state floats its South Coast project, deemed 'the big dog,' as it tries to determine which areas to protect.

Recreational fisherman Mike Lewis, center, gets information about the Marine Life Protection Act Initiative during Monday’s session. “I came here because I was curious about what was going to happen,” he said. (Sonia Fernandez / Noozhawk photo)

The ongoing Marine Life Protection Act Initiative kicked off its South Coast project with an informational session Monday evening in the Larry Crandell Room of Santa Barbara’s Louise Lowry Davis Recreation Center.

“This is going to be the big dog,” said Richard Rogers, president of the California Fish and Game Commission, the regulatory body that makes the final approvals on proposed marine protected areas — decisions that are likely to change the way people from Santa Barbara County to San Diego County use the ocean.

After years of refining its methods through efforts in the central and north central sections of the California coast, the public-private partnership behind the Marine Life Protection Act is getting ready to tackle its largest project area: the ecologically distinct Southern California Bight, which stretches from Point Conception south to the border with Mexico.

“This is where the population is, this is where the money is in recreational, consumptive and nonconsumptive uses of the marine environment, and, of course, a great deal of commercial fishing,” Rogers said.

From now until the end of the year, the initiative will put together several groups of people, including scientists, public policy experts and economists, to collect and synthesize existing data on the South Coast project area and study a wide variety of data, including biology, habitats, physical features, fishing trends and other uses.

A regional stakeholder group made up of representatives from various interested groups — such as conservationists, recreational users and people who rely on the ocean for a living — will be assembled to give their expert opinions of the South Coast region as well as provide input on the locations and sizes of the marine protected areas. Click here for information about becoming part of the regional stakeholder group.

“Our concern is that you get a balanced approach in that marine habitats are well protected, and that at the same time (the initiative) balances that with the widest possible public access to these marine resources,” said Tom Raftican, president of United Anglers of Southern California, the largest recreational fishing organization in the state.

Starting in January 2009, the MLPA will begin working on a series of proposals for marine protected areas, using information gathered from the data collection process and input from the public. A series of meetings with regional stakeholders, the science advisory team and the initiative’s decision-making Blue Ribbon Task Force will select the best proposals and narrow them to the best alternative to fulfill the MLPA’s objectives.

“This is huge,” Santa Barbara Channelkeeper Executive Director Kira Redmond said. “It’s going to have major benefits for marine life in the (Santa Barbara) Channel and throughout the California coast. The organization is interested in levels of protection that would limit the amount of use and fishing in certain areas in the Santa Barbara Channel.

“It’s going to be controversial, but our organization thinks it’s important to set aside small areas that are closed to any kind of human impacts to allow depleted resources to replenish themselves.”

There are nearly 50 marine protected areas along the Southern California Bight and surrounding islands, but with the exception of the ones around the Santa Barbara Channel Islands, those MPAs were developed in relative isolation from one another. According to MLPA staff, the goal is to create a network of MPAs that protect marine life and allow for public access.

Satie Airame, one of several scientists contracted from UCSB’s Marine Science Institute, said that preliminary results show that the networked MPAs along the Channel Islands have had some effect on some populations of fish — at least those typically targeted by commercial and recreational fishermen. “Some of those species, like some rockfish and California Sheephead, are already showing greater numbers and larger sizes in the reserves,” she said.

The MPAs along the coast may or may not be left as-is by the time the South Coast phase of the MLPA is finished. The Channel Islands MPAs are under evaluation for effectiveness.

For Mike Lewis, a lifelong recreational fisherman based out of Isla Vista, the implementation of the MLPA will dictate when and where he gets his dinner.

“I came here because I was curious about what was going to happen,” he said. “When I have a nice spot, I’d hate to see it close, and I don’t want to feel like I was shut out from having my input heard.”

Others in the first series of workshops are scheduled for:

» Oxnard: Tuesday, South Oxnard Center, 200 E. Bard Road (located next to the South Oxnard Branch Library), 805.385.8362.

» Santa Monica: Wednesday, Ken Edwards Center, 1527 Fourth St., 310.458.8300.

A second set of workshops is scheduled for:

» Huntington Beach, July 8,, Huntington Beach Harbor View Club House, 16600 Saybrook Lane, 714.536.5486.

» Encinitas, July 9, location to be determined.

» San Diego, July 10, Reuben H. Fleet Science Center, 1875 El Prado, 619.238.1233.

All workshops will be from 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.

Noozhawk staff writer Sonia Fernandez can be reached at [email protected]

Reviews of Northern California and Central Coast regions either are under way or complete as the state determines which marine areas should be protected. Next up: Southern California, which includes waters off Santa Barbara. (Will McClintock graphic / Marine Life Protection Act Initiative)
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