Adam Madison, The Triplicate

Representatives of regional government, tribes and fisheries deserve commendations for coalescing around a proposal for marine protected areas on the North Coast.

Rather than just complain about the ongoing state process of applying the Marine Life Protection Act to our shores, the North Coasters have joined the process with a plan that seeks to balance the need for habitat protection with the need for preservation of the region's fishing industry.

Everyone involved in the process will pay homage to that concept of "balance," but it's significant that the first real proposal for applying the MLPA to the North Coast has been laid out by those most affected by what happens here. Besides, they had to go first if they were to go at all, because "external" proposals such as this had to be submitted by a Feb. 1 deadline.

Now the focus shifts to the "internal" MLPA process, specifically two appointed groups tasked with achieving that aforementioned balance for the North Coast. As they work, members of the Science Advisory Team and the Regional Stakeholder Group would do well to keep in mind the external proposal already on the table.

A key question is whether the process is flexible enough to accommodate Del Norte's unique offshore topography. The MLPA's science guidelines call for protection of deep-water habitat, but there isn't that much of it off our mostly shallow coastline. And the biggest deep-water zones we do have are right in the middle of prime fishing areas.

To truly achieve balance, the ultimate plan for the North Coast must accomplish environmental preservation objectives without punishing Del Norte for its topography.

The schedule calls for submitting a final plan to the state Fish and Game Commission by October. And as the state's top MLPA Initiative official told The Triplicate this week: "Everything's on the table until the very end."