The citizens of San Luis Obispo County owe a big “thank you” to the majority supervisors’ vote opposing the flawed Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary proposal.
At the Feb. 7 meeting, many voices expressed concern about protecting our coastline, harbors and marine life, including members of the fishing and agriculture communities. We all wish to continue to enjoy our precious coastal waterways, yet there is clearly an attempt by special interests pushing for a sanctuary to paint the opposition in a negative light.
Let’s examine some of the misconceptions:
▪ A new sanctuary will bring protection to our coast. The National Marine Sanctuaries Act is an unnecessary appendage to the 18 federal and state laws that already exist and offer comprehensive management and conservation of our ocean resources.
▪ Opposition to the sanctuary puts offshore oil drilling back on the table. This is a red herring. First, fishermen, growers, ranchers and others have legitimate reasons to fear another federal agency at our door. Second, though a sanctuary might have a regulation preventing new oil rigs, Congress can overturn any sanctuary regulation. It should be noted that the National Marine Sanctuaries Act states that new sanctuaries must honor existing oil and mineral leases, which are already in existence in the proposed sanctuary boundaries. Sanctuary status does not offer permanent protection from oil development, but local actions by the California Coastal Commission, our county-adopted Measure A and the strength of the West Coast congressional delegation do provide the protection we all want to see along our Pacific coastline.
▪ The new sanctuary will bring economic benefits to tourism. One only needs to look at the Monterey Bay region, where no evidence is on record that any new hotel or restaurant jobs have been added because of the sanctuary designation. Look a bit farther to Lake Huron’s Thunder Bay Sanctuary, subject of an economic study by the University of Michigan, where 95 percent of businesses surveyed said sanctuary status did not affect business decisions, including hiring. In fact, locally, the San Luis Obispo and Morro Bay chambers of commerce do not support the proposed sanctuary.
▪ The proposed sanctuary would not regulate fishing; the sanctuary hasn’t created one fishing regulation. There is ample record of how sanctuaries have harmed fishermen and why fishermen do not trust sanctuary leadership. The Monterey Bay, Channel Islands and Stellwagen Bank (Massachusetts) sanctuaries have all either created sanctuary no-fishing regulations or used their influence to get other agencies to regulate on their behalf. That’s exactly what the Monterey Bay sanctuary did in the state process to create no-fishing zones, to the great detriment of our local fishermen.
▪ We’ve never had local control of state and federal waters, so we can’t lose local control. A sanctuary adds a new layer of bureaucracy, which is not subject to local control. When you have a sanctuary, an unelected federal manager has the power to form an advisory council, select whom he or she listens to, control the agendas of meetings and greatly limit the ability of the advisory council to communicate with anybody but the manager. There is ample record of this being a huge issue in other sanctuaries.
▪ Other projects like harbor dredging and desalination plants can be accommodated. Look no further than Monterey regarding issues around harbor dredging and desalination. When you speak with any of the four Monterey-area harbor officials, you will hear of the problems they’ve had with sanctuary authority over all the other permitting agencies for the disposal of clean dredged material. With respect to desalination, the public needs to know that no matter what other agencies permit desal, it won’t be approved unless the sanctuary authorizes the project.
As we have shown, there are many issues of disagreement within the community regarding the proposed sanctuary. Our fishing and agriculture industries, both of which have potential to be impacted by any new federal agency overseeing the local waterways, rivers and streams that flow into the ocean, should have been consulted prior to NOAA accepting the nomination of the Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary.
Thanks to the county Board of Supervisors, NOAA and the sanctuary proponents are on notice that there is considerable concern and opposition to the nomination.
Shelly Higginbotham is a former mayor of Pismo Beach.
Tom Hafer has been commercially fishing the waters off Morro Bay for over 44 years and is president of the Morro Bay Commercial Fishermen’s Organization.
Dan Wixom is a fourth-generation San Luis Obispo County rancher and farmer who works and resides in Morro Bay.