10-year assessment approved for Marine Protected Areas

FOLSOM — A controversial plan to extend the review process of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) off the California coast from five to 10 years was unanimously approved by the California Fish and Game Commission (FGC) on Aug. 24.

Establishing a 10-year assessment for MPAs caused a discord with California anglers.

Recreational anglers up and down the state believed the state broke its promise of subjecting MPAs to a five-year assessment.

“The five-year assessment was very important to the recreational angling community. It got them involved,” George Osborn of the California Sportfishing League told commissioners, adding anglers suspected changes would later be made to the five-year assessment plan. “With confidence in our government being at historic lows, this is just another example of commitments that are made to people at one point in time and reneged on by government at a later point.”

Meanwhile Dan Bacher, a journalist and editor of Fish Sniffer magazine, claimed the MPA network is not doing enough to protect the ocean’s habitats from oil spills, fracking, pollution and other dangers.

There were also arguments the Master Plan and extension of the assessment period were based on flawed science.

However commissioners and environmental groups argued more time was needed to determine whether MPAs were truly allowing marine life to recover and thrive.

In April FGC President Eric Sklar said the state did not promise it would restore recreational fishing in protected waters after a five-year assessment was completed. He added much has changed recently and the state needs more time to address some of the dangers affecting waters off the California coast.

The vote comes after about eight months of commission deliberations and delays. Adoption of the Master Plan was originally scheduled to take place in April and then again in June. However the commission delayed the vote until its Aug. 24 meeting to receive tribal input on draft language.

Only three tribes responded to the commission’s request, according to FGC staff.

A handful of individuals commended the commission for incorporating tribal input and working with various partners to move an MPA plan forward.

Commissioners did not discuss the matter before or after public comment. A brief FGC staff presentation preceded public comment.

A five-year assessment of MPAs was initially outlined in the Marina Life Protected Area (MLPA) master plan. The assessment would determine how conservation efforts have progressed up and down the California coast.

A draft master plan was adopted by the FGC in 2008. Commissioners began a review of the master plan in December 2015. Comments on the plan’s final draft were accepted through April, though the commission continued to receive tribal input into the summer.

The commission met at Lake Natoma Inn Hotel and Conference Center in Folsom Aug. 24-25.

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