Marine protection plan in the works

Process open for public comment

The process to create a new and improved network of Marine Protected Areas along California’s south coast is going to speed up in 2009, and it starts next week.

A master plan for a comprehensive system of marine parks, reserves and conservation areas to protect marine life from overfishing will be developed this year by a 30-member stakeholder group representing conservationists, commercial fishing, recreational angling and diving, ports, harbors, the government and various business entities.

The plan will be open for public comment at the end of the year and a Blue Ribbon Task Force will present final recommendations to the Department of Fish and Game in early 2010, but before that happens a stakeholder meeting will be held Jan. 13 and 14 at the Holiday Inn on the Bay at 1355 North Harbor Drive.

Public process

The process has been a long time coming.

The 1999 Marine Life Protection Act called for the overhaul of the state’s existing piecemeal system of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) because only 14 of the 220,000 square miles of the state and federal waters off the state’s coast were actually no-take zones.

Two attempts to implement a more effective system failed due to lack of public input, said Brian Baird, the assistant secretary of ocean and coastal policy at the California Resource Agency.

This time, the public is being involved every step of the way.

“We need all of you to try to make this thing work,” Baird said during a talk at the Scripps Birch Aquarium.

The central coast was the first of the five study areas to complete its plan in 2007, creating 29 new MPAs. The north central coast study is almost done and work began last summer on the south coast, from Point Conception in Santa Barbara County to the Mexican border.

San Diego County is home to 10 of these areas, including many of the lagoons in North County, the La Jolla Reserve and Point Loma. However, half of them are conservation areas, which do not limit commercial or recreational fishing at all.

Won’t solve everything

Not everyone is 100 percent sold on Marine Protected Areas. While he said the philosophy behind them is commendable, Russ Moll, director of the California Sea Grant program, is skeptical of how much they can really do.

“We should not oversell MPAs,” Moll said. “We can expect a lot of laudable things, but we cannot expect them to be the end all be all.”

Limiting or banning commercial and recreational fishing will help, however, it will not address other serious problems plaguing California’s coast, such as unrestricted shoreline development, marine debris, eroding beaches and degraded water quality, Moll said.

“A Marine Protected Area does not do a lot of good if the water rushing through it is contaminated,” Moll said.

California Sea Grants is funding $12 million for baseline studies of the Marine Protected Areas, so future monitoring can more accurately measure their performance.

The process that will unfold in the coming year is bound to be an interesting one. There has already been one interesting development - the 20-member science advisory panel published an opinion that beach nourishment buries marine ecosystems beyond repair. This comes at a time when momentum is building behind a second regional beach nourishment project coordinated by the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG).

SANDAG officials plan to respond to the opinion at the stakeholder meeting next week.

For more information, go to


Stakeholders meeting:

  • Jan. 13 and 14
  • Holiday Inn on the Bay, 1355 North Harbor Drive


For the Meeting Agenda

Live Web Cast Day of the Meeting