SAN FRANCISCO (April 13, 2007) -- The California Fish & Game Commission adopted a landmark plan today to protect the scenic coastline and rich marine habitat of the Central Coast. The final plan, the Commission's "Preferred Alternative," was hailed by conservationists as an important step forward in restoring marine habitats and bringing back abundant fish. The plan was reached through a unique public-private partnership that involved a diverse array of stakeholders, from local businesses to conservationists.
"This is a victory for the health and productivity of the ocean," said Karen Garrison, Co-Director of NRDC's Oceans Program. "It's good for sea life and for all of us who value the ocean's resources. It's a step toward a bold vision: a string of safe havens that secure our ocean's natural heritage for people to enjoy now and for future generations."
California's commercial fishing fleet is landing half the amount of fish it caught in 1990 and the average size of the fish is smaller. Studies show that fish within marine reserves are allowed to grow older and bigger, producing up to 200 times as many young. The Central Coast Marine Protected Areas (MPA) plan encompasses some of the most well-known areas of the California coast -- from Big Sur to the elephant seal rookeries at Point Año Nuevo to Vandenberg Air Force Base near Point Conception. The plan also expands protection for Point Lobos, one of the state's few existing reserves, where thousands of divers visit each year to experience the vibrant wildlife of a healthy ecosystem. A survey conducted by the Public Policy Institute of California in 2006 found that three out of four Californians support the creation of new marine protected areas.
"The Commission's vote represents a balanced compromise, using high quality science to protect some of the central coast's richest sites -- our underwater Yosemites. By investing in the ocean now, we can support fishing in the future," said Kate Wing, a policy analyst with the NRDC.
The Commission's decision will place a total of 18% of state ocean waters off California's central coast in some type of protected area, leaving more than 80% of the area available for fishing. The total area will encompass more than 1,150 square miles, 8% of which will be fully protected marine reserves. The rest will allow limited types of sport and commercial fishing. This makes California the first state in the nation to undertake such a large, comprehensive conservation plan to restore its coastal waters.
The plan is the result of thousands of hours of work volunteered by marine scientists, fishermen, recreation interests, conservationists and others. This historic event is the culmination of seven years of work since the passage of the Marine Life Protection Act in 1999, which requires such a network of marine protected areas along the entire California coast. The Central Coast plan designates 29 offshore areas for protection from Half Moon Bay to Point Conception, and is expected to go into effect later this year.
This landmark decision was made possible by the commitment of the Schwarzenegger administration to implementing the law, with help from an innovative public/private partnership. A high level group of policy advisors, called the Blue Ribbon Task Force, oversaw a process involving expert scientists and a group of local citizens including divers, business owners, fishermen, and conservationists. Through that process, the Task Force considered countless hours of public input, scientific review and economic information to meld stakeholder proposals into a balanced package of MPAs, which they then passed on to the Fish and Game Commission. The California Fish & Game Commission unanimously agreed to consider this preferred alternative last August, and voted it into law today.
To read the consensus statement signed by over 160 scientists stating that marine reserves are a highly effective tool that can improve the state of the ocean, go to http://www.nceas.ucsb.edu/Consensus/.
For more information on the Marine Life Protection Act please go to: http://www.caloceans.org.