With some protests and years of meetings, a draft proposal to establish a chain of ocean wilderness areas from Mendocino County north to the Oregon border was unveiled two weeks ago by state officials. The draft environmental impact report is available online, www.dfg.ca.gov/mlpa/. The report is also available at libraries along the north coast.
There will be three public hearings. One in Fort Bragg Town Hall, March 20 at 6:30 – 8:00 pm., Del Norte County Board of Supervisors chambers, March 21, from 6:30 – 8:00 pm., and the Red Lion Hotel, Eureka, on April 11, with a time yet to be announced. Public comment period ends on April 16.
The Draft would set aside 19 marine protected areas which would encompass about 136 square miles from north of Point Arena to the Oregon state line, which is a distance of about 225 miles. The proposed areas would include four existing areas and 15 new ones. It would restrict or totally ban fishing, which would approximately be 13 percent of state waters along Mendocino, Humboldt and Del Norte counties.
The Mouth of Ten Mile Beach
Environmental leaders, fisherman and others have helped influence the selected areas to maximize protection of sensitive ecosystems, while minimizing impacts on the coastal economy. They include areas off Ten Mile Beach and Cape Mendocino north of Fort Bragg and about a half dozen conservation areas near the mouths of rivers and zones to protect the offshore reefs and rocks.
Fishing interest sought to limit the reserves, feeling the threat to their industry while conservation supporters wanted more ocean wilderness, saying the ecological benefits would boost fish stocks, which of course the fisherman remain skeptical of those claims.
The concerns of tribal members who were opposed to the restrictions, held protest and demonstrations, saying that it was their right to use these ancestral fishing grounds. A significant question for tribes, who want unfettered access to the protected areas, including the reserves where fishing would be banned, to continue traditional harvesting practices. About two dozen tribes and tribal communities are pushing the State Fish and Game Commission to allow for those uses, and exception not granted else where along the coast. The tribes have backed the proposal in concept, if not in final form, while reserving the right to challenge a larger question, the state’s authority over their fishing rights. State and local government officials say they are optimistic about reaching an agreement with the tribes, but is not offering any further details.
We will all need to pay attention to the upcoming comment period that will feature hearings, starting in Fort Bragg, then Crescent City and also in Eureka to help shape the draft.
Altogether, the California coastline now has more than 124 marine protected areas covering about 848 square miles or about 16 percent of coastal waters.