It had all the makings of a train wreck, or perhaps the better metaphor is shipwreck. A North Coast fishing industry already beset by decreasing stock and increasing regulations faced the prospect of a whole new layer of restrictions — including establishment of new no-take zones.
California’s Marine Life Protection Act may make perfect sense from a conservation standpoint, but it also seemed like it had the potential to be another serious blow to a vital industry that helps define who we are on the North Coast.
The issue is still playing out, but at this point it appears a unified proposal for the establishment of Marine Protection Areas in this region may get adopted by the state.
That unified proposal was no small accomplishment. It’s the product of collaboration and compromise by diverse stakeholders such as commercial fishermen, conservationists and tribal representatives. Those are not parties prone to easy agreement. Heck, it must’ve been a huge challenge just to get all the fishing interests in Del Norte, Humboldt and Mendocino counties to back the same plan.
The stakeholders had to consider fishing safety and profitability issues along a diverse coastline, in addition to addressing the MLPA guidelines for adequately protecting and preserving marine species.
They worked hard, and it’s nice to see their efforts rewarded by the decision Thursday of the Blue Ribbon Task Force to back the full proposal and recommend its approval by the state Fish and Game Commission in February.
There’s still some suspense here, because everyone acknowledges that the unified proposal calls for a lower level of protection for some species than what is advised by MLPA science guidelines. In areas where commercial fishing would be restricted, the plan would still allow harvesting by noncommercial fishermen to preserve traditional tribal uses.
There is currently no legal way to allow only tribes to harvest in certain areas. That could soon change. Blue Ribbon Task Force members indicated they were passing along the North Coast proposal as-is in hopes that new legislation will resolve the issue. There might even be draft legislation on the table before the Fish and Game Commission considers the North Coast plan.
For now, we should appreciate the efforts of regional stakeholders to fully engage in a process that could have inspired division rather cooperation. The emergence of a single, unified proposal hasn’t happened, by the way, in any other region of California.
We also applaud the state officials who have shown they weren’t just paying lip service to the idea of valuing local input. The MLPA Initiative people helped the stakeholders along, and the Blue Ribbon Task Force members have given this grass-roots effort a real shot at gaining final adoption by the state.
Mark it down, folks. So far this would appear to be an example of state government working well with its citizens to resolve difficult, complex problems.