Letters to the Editor

Sea sanctuaries won’t help locally

In light of the many conflicting statements about a potential Central Coast marine sanctuary, we — as presidents of the Morro Bay Commercial Fishermen’s Organization and the Port San Luis Commercial Fishermen’s Association — feel it is imperative that our community understands how a National Marine Sanctuary (NMS) operates.

In the first place, our coast is well protected by existing laws. There are many state and federal regulations that already offer all the protection, and likely more, than is needed. Eighteen existing protections can be found in their entirety at Our Protected Coast Coalition website, http://www.opccoalition.com. Sanctuary proponents claim that sanctuary status will permanently prevent offshore oil drilling, but the National Marine Sanctuaries Act contains no prohibition against oil, gas, wind or wave energy projects. In fact, the act contains a provision that requires honoring leases in effect at the time of designation, which would include the current existing leases along the Central Coast.

While the existing West Coast NMS areas have designation documents that include a ban on oil and gas exploration or development, this ban is not permanent, as Congress and the president can overrule it. The Flower Gardens Banks NMS (Gulf of Mexico) contains oil platforms.

Sanctuaries are not beneficial for our local fishing industry. Sanctuaries encourage the establishment of Marine Protected Areas, which are no-fishing zones. In California, sanctuary actions led to the removal of some of the most productive habitat from fishing, resulting in safety-at-sea implications for fishermen, who are forced to travel farther to fish and expend more fuel to do so.

Sanctuary status would also affect local farmers, ranchers and vintners. Even if an activity occurs outside sanctuary boundaries (such as up a tributary) and the sanctuary managers believe it harms sanctuary resources, they can take civil action to stop the activity. Sanctuaries become involved in monitoring stream run-off to the ocean from crops and livestock. A memorandum of agreement between the State Water Resources Control Board and sanctuaries describes this regulatory relationship.

Establishment of a sanctuary would require permitting for maintenance dredging, harbor/pier repair work and scientific research. The Monterey Bay NMS staff reviews up to 65 permits monthly. Many of these are for minor “disturbance of the seafloor” activities. Scientists who need to extract material from the seafloor must get a permit. In the case of dredging, in Monterey a permit was required to gather four cups of sand from the ocean floor to analyze. These permits are burdensome in application and compliance requirements and have cost harbors large amounts of money, without resulting in any ecosystem benefits.

While supporters claim that sanctuaries boost tourism and create significant economic impacts, research and peer review found such claims to be extremely exaggerated. Peer review detail on these and other proponent claims is available on Our Protected Coast Coalition website.

The most serious concern about sanctuary status is the complete loss of local control. Federal sanctuary management claims to honor local input, but in the Monterey Bay NMS, the local sanctuary advisory committee (SAC) is politically appointed and has not been representative of, or responsive to, the community or their concerns. The SAC managers control the agenda, representation and even limit public communication.

For many of the reasons cited here, sanctuary status has been rejected in a number of communities. Morro Bay has officially rejected establishment of a Central Coast sanctuary under several different mayors and city councils.

Alaska vetoed a sanctuary nomination because of a lack of local support. Recently, the Oregon Ocean Policy Advisory Council, consisting of six Oregon coastal counties, two cities and two port districts, studied the question of a NMS along the Oregon coast and, based on their findings, voted unanimously against it.

As good stewards of our local coastal environment, we strongly believe the Central Coast does not need yet another regulatory agency making decisions and creating regulations for us locally. Please visit http://www.opccoalition.com to become fully informed on this important issue, and join us in retaining local control of our Central Coast by opposing sanctuary designation.