Governor Should Stand Behind California Marine Act, Says NRDC

Group Disputes Fish and Game Department's Decision to Suspend Landmark Law

SAN FRANCISCO (January 13, 2004) -- The California Fish and Game Department should reverse its decision to suspend a law requiring the creation of marine reserves off California's coast, according to NRDC (the Natural Resources Defense Council). The national conservation group with offices in San Francisco and Santa Monica said Gov. Schwarzenegger should put his muscle into defending the state's landmark Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA).

"If the governor is serious about keeping his promise to protect California's environment and economy, then he won't let this important law die," said Karen Garrison, co-director of NRDC's ocean program. "This is about sound management of the ocean and protecting the rich web of ocean life."

Garrison disputed the Fish and Game Department's claim that it was forced to suspend the MLPA because of the budget crisis. "There's no doubt that we have a serious budget problem," she said, "but it's premature and unnecessary to just say 'stop.' It doesn't take $2 million to develop a plan. Delaying implementation of the Marine Life Protection Act won't help solve the budget mess, but it will steal valuable time that we need to solve our oceans crisis."

Garrison said that protecting marine resources is necessary to ensure healthy commercial and recreational fisheries and to promote the state's coastal tourism economy. She noted that a 1999 report by the California Resources Agency, which oversees the Department of Fish and Game, found that the coast and ocean contribute more than $17 billion to the state's economy.

Coastal communities have recently been pummeled by a series of fishery disasters, including the demise of all commercial abalone fisheries, steep declines in nearshore fisheries, and annual closures of much of the continental shelf to bottom fishing in response to the collapse of the Pacific groundfish fishery.

The MLPA, which passed in 1999, calls for creation of a network of marine reserves and other safe havens for ocean life, through a science-based process of public involvement. The law served as a model for the federal Executive Order on Marine Protected Areas, signed by former President Clinton and upheld by President Bush.

The Pew Oceans Commission, the National Academy of Sciences and other respected scientific associations have embraced marine reserves as an essential tool for restoring marine life and keeping ocean ecosystems healthy. A November 2003 poll by the Public Policy Institute of California showed that 75 percent of California voters support creation of ocean reserves and other protected areas.