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Sanctuary problems

Some of the many reasons why federal marine sanctuary management is a bad idea



There are strong reasons why citizens should oppose a new federal bureaucracy operating in our offshore waters. A recent editorial by Andrew Christie ("Let's get that marine sanctuary," Feb. 6) takes a very low road in attempting to dismiss the fact-based concerns of citizens and agencies over a sanctuary designation for our region.

Let's fact-check claims of what a new sanctuary will do.

The claim: Local citizens will have a voice in sanctuary management (the "local control" issue).

The fact: A new sanctuary will be managed by non-elected federal bureaucrats with significant control from national headquarters leadership. There will be a local Sanctuary Advisory Council (SAC) made up of agency representatives and stakeholders. The rub: Sanctuary managers get to pick them. The Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary has a long history of favoring SAC appointments aimed toward hearing the kind of advice sanctuary managers want to hear. A couple of years ago, the three-county Association of Monterey Bay Area Governments (AMBAG) wrote, requesting that an independent committee be formed to make recommendations to fix problems with the SAC. This request, coming from 22 local elected officials, was rejected out of hand. If sanctuaries don't listen to entities like AMBAG, what local input will resonate? Remember, sanctuaries have federal rule-making authority.

The claim: Sanctuaries bring permanent protection against offshore oil and gas development.

The fact: Not true. Sanctuary regulations can be overturned by Congress. The strongest protection comes from a combination of the force of the California congressional delegation with state and local ordinances preventing the construction of oil infrastructure. Whether you are for or against offshore wind energy projects, sanctuaries can allow them, and can even make money from such development.

The claim: A sanctuary will enhance our economy.

The fact: Not true. Other than its own spending on staff and rents, sanctuary designations provide little economic growth. Just look at the large Monterey Bay sanctuary, where very few new private sector jobs have been created since 1992. This is because coastal communities like ours already fully advertise our natural beauty. Sanctuaries do not bring new promotional money. Sanctuaries make claims of vast economic benefits, but this is because they claim credit for all the existing coastal economies, like whale watching, fishing, and more. Sanctuaries do not cause this activity.

The claim: Sanctuaries have never harmed commercial or recreational fishermen.

The fact: Monterey sanctuary leadership led the effort in California's marine protected area process to close many of the best fishing areas. This occurred despite early promises made by NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association) and elected leaders that the sanctuary would not create fishing regulations nor take actions that would threaten fishermen's livelihoods. Mr. Christie refers people to sanctuary leadership's testimony before the Morro Bay City Council in 2016. People who heard this testimony and who know of the sanctuary's role in creating no-fishing zones found this testimony to be disingenuous, if not dishonest.

The claim: Sanctuaries offer protection for endangered species.

The fact: The National Marine Sanctuaries Act and regulations are largely minor and redundant to other more important federal and state laws, such as the Clean Water Act, the Endangered Species Act, the Marine Mammal Protection Act, and the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act. These laws have made West Coast fisheries sustainable, brought several species of whales back to pre-whaling populations, and protected drinking and ocean waters from pollution. These laws help us have the great ocean conditions we already have.

The claim: Chumash offshore heritage sites need a sanctuary for protection.

The fact: While it's true that a sanctuary designation could protect offshore submerged cultural sites, there are other authorities that would be more precise in their protection. The federal Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act and the Antiquities Act are among the laws that could be applied to specific sites.

Another issue: Permits from the California Coastal Commission and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers must receive sanctuary "authorization" before they become valid if the project is within the sanctuary's boundary, or even if at a distance, if it could affect sanctuary resources. This places the sanctuary above all other agencies. It is also why ranchers and growers among others are concerned about new sanctuary authority.

There are other issues with the way the National Marine Sanctuary program actually works, too, but there are too many to write about in this column. Even though Andrew Christie tries to dismiss our concerns, they are real and based on observations of the marine sanctuaries in the Monterey Bay and Channel Islands. Δ

The Morro Bay Commercial Fishermen's Organization writes from Morro Bay. Send comments through the editor at [email protected] or write a response for publication and email it to [email protected].

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