NOAA Restoration Center activities to apply to SoCal coastal counties

SANTA MONICA — A proposal to consistently apply a federal habitat restoration program benefiting various marine and fishery projects to the state’s 20 coastal counties was unanimously approved by the California Coastal Commission on March 9.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) requested commissioners be allowed to consistently apply its Restoration Center activities to Southern California’s five coastal counties (San Diego, Orange, Los Angeles, Ventura and Santa Barbara).

The Coastal Commission approved a consistency determination in 2013 for the NOAA Restoration Center’s (NOAA RC) activities along the state’s northern and central coast.

Examples of NOAA RC projects in Southern California include Upper Newport Bay Eelgrass Restoration in Newport Beach and Alamitos Bay Olympia Oyster Restoration in Long Beach.

“Commission concurrence with this consistency determination would allow NOAA RC to provide funding, technical support, monitoring, and annual reporting for specific conservation projects selected and approved under the CRP for the restoration and enhancement of coastal resources without further formal review by the Coastal Commission,” a commission staff report to commissioners stated.

Stacy Smith, who oversees NOAA RC’s operation in Southern California, said extending the consistency determination to San Diego, Orange, Los Angeles, Ventura and Santa Barbara counties would allow the federal agency to fully operate within the state’s entire coastal zone.

NOAA RC’s Community-Based Restoration Program primarily focuses on project restoring habitats to directly benefit living marine, estuarine, and freshwater resources and species. The federal agency relies on educational programs, interagency and cross-organizational partnerships, and volunteers to realize its restoration efforts, Smith said.

Smith said NOAA hopes to ensure its projects are consistent with the Coastal Act and protect vital resources. The Coastal Commission would review each project for consistency determination; NOAA RC would provide an annual report to commissioners, updating them on the status or results of the federal agency’s restoration projects in California.

“It would result in more restoration projects on the ground, in the coastal zone, and statewide,” Smith said.

Abalone and salmon are among the fish species targeted for habitat restoration.

Some projects NOAA RC had already overseen in California include in-stream habitat enhancements, fish passage barrier removal, restoration of tidal flow and water conservation.

Smith added a consistency determination would also reduce costs and time for project applications and regulatory agencies.

NOAA has spent more than $105 million since 1995 on 383 Community-Based Restoration Program projects in California, restoring more than 10,800 acres of habitat space between headwaters and ocean and opening 441 miles of stream for fish migration, according to Smith.

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