DFG Scraps Closure Plans

Process will now include input from all parties

By Ed Zieralski
Staff Writer
San Diego Union-Tribune

January 20, 2002

Protests from recreational fishermen about proposed closures of key ocean fishing areas influenced the Department of Fish and Game to scrap a plan it has been working on for nearly two years and start all over.

The DFG heard and reacted to the overwhelming protest at every public meeting it held to discuss the Marine Life Protection Act and its required marine protected areas. The Marine Life Protection Act requires the DFG to develop a master plan for a statewide network of marine protected areas.

Recreational and commercial fishermen as well as other groups such as divers, kelp harvesters and bait haulers wanted more say in the proposed closures. And a leading environmental group was dissatisfied with the process.

Now each side will get what it wants.

In a statement issued Thursday in Sacramento that outlines the DFG's new process to arrive at its marine protected areas, the DFG states: "One of the most frequent and important comments given at these meetings was that the DFG had not effectively involved the public in early planning, and that future drafts needed to have significant levels of constituent input."

Originally, a planning team consisting of scientists and biologists worked for 18 months to develop the set of concept maps that detailed the proposed marine protected areas. Three of the areas were off San Diego County and included key fishing areas such as the Point Loma kelp beds and waters off La Jolla and Camp Pendleton. Included was an area off La Jolla where the Everingham Brothers Bait Co. makes bait for the San Diego sportfishing fleet.

Buck Everingham, Capt. Bill Poole and scores of others from the commercial and recreational fishing community protested the closures and wanted more study and public input. Poole told the DFG at its meeting here last summer that if it put the fleet's bait man out of business, it would put the fleet out of business, too.

But now, the DFG is "wiping the slate clean," as DFG director Bob Hight said.

It is turning to six regional panels of representatives from all sides and special interests of the complicated issue. The representatives will be nominated by the public and then chosen by a "neutral facilitator."

Hight drove a final gaff into the old process by calling the original closure maps, "ill-crafted concepts," and thus removed them from the process.

"The voice of the recreational fisherman was loud and clear on this one," said Tom Raftican, president of United Anglers of Southern California. "If we would have rolled over on this, it all would be history now, and key fishing areas would be closed."

Bob Fletcher, president of the Sportfishing Association of California, said that closing areas purely for environmental reasons without proper scientific study and economic analysis would have had a major financial impact on the state's fishing industry and economy, and a biological impact on the DFG's current fisheries management practices.

Hight issued a three-page letter detailing the new method for fulfilling the requirements of the Marine Life Protection Act.

Hight said the DFG received a federal grant of $372,000 to complete its master plan for protected areas. Of that, $180,000 will be used for a socio-economic analysis to show the financial impact of marine protected areas. Fletcher said the $180,000 is a start, but it's not nearly enough to cover the entire state.

"The Monterey Bay harbor master spoke and said it would take $100,000 just for an economic analysis of Monterey Bay," Fletcher said. "Sen. DeDe Alpert (D-San Diego) encouraged the DFG to seek donations from the larger foundations that donate to environmental groups."

Said Raftican: "We clearly have a long way to go, but when you total up removing the maps and then add in economic evaluations and angler participation, this is a victory for the California sportfishing community."

The sportfishing community wasn't the only group that welcomed the DFG's abrupt change of direction on ocean closures.

Karen Garrison, senior policy analyst for the Natural Resources Defense Council, said her group recognized flaws in the process early on and requested more public input. The NRDC claims an extended family of 600,000 members and online activists.

On its Web site, the NRDC says it strives to develop "wilderness waters, ecologically sensitive ocean areas afforded the kind of protection we've long given to special places of land."

"A lot of people weren't happy with the process," said Garrison. "The public wasn't involved in the entire process, and that didn't happen because the Department (DFG) was working with one hand tied behind its back. It didn't have enough funds . . . We wanted to look like this from the beginning. Now we have to go forward with the process of finding common ground."

Garrison said the DFG's new planners will collect the best science and incorporate that with public input before making any decisions. She said the original scientists who worked on what Hight called "ill-crafted concepts," will be available to advise the new working groups.

But the new regional panels will start with blank maps and work toward a compromise and a network of marine protected areas that likely won't look anything like the originals.

Garrison agreed with Raftican and Fletcher in saying the federal money and potential grant money will help complete the process by the mandated deadline of the end of 2003. The master plan for the MLPA must be in the hands of the Fish and Game Commission by Jan. 1, 2004.

Copyright 2002 Union-Tribune Publishing Co.