Opinion Columns & Blogs

Sanctuary plan is a bad idea in the name of preservation

John Peschong
John Peschong The Tribune

I’m all for preservation. The Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary (CHNMS), which was first discussed in 1990 under a different name, sounds like a good program on the surface, but it has always been a bad idea. Supporters claim it will add millions of dollars to our local economy and provide jobs from a boost to our tourism industry. There’s no real evidence this will happen. Supporters also claim the importance of cultural and marine habitat preservation, but a string of local, state and federal regulations already protect our coastline and cultural heritage.

The Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary (MBNMS) to the north of us is an example of what we might expect.

Janice Peters, the former mayor of Morro Bay, has published articles and letters to the editor referencing discussions she had with the late Monterey Bay Councilwoman Ruth Vreeland and her regret for having supported the establishment of the MBNMS in 1992.

Vreeland was particularly dismayed with the loss of local control Monterey suffered. She noted that most of the Sanctuary Advisory Council’s members were chosen by Washington bureaucrats who set their own agenda, rarely took advice from community and industry leaders, and were prohibited from talking to local elected officials unless given permission from federal staff.

Based on the experience of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary program, the Morro Bay City Council passed resolutions in 2003 and again in 2012 against a National Marine Sanctuary.

Further, based on the Monterey Bay program, the California Marine Affairs and Navigation Conference has recommended the National Marine Sanctuary program not be expanded on California shores until improvements are made.

With loss of local input comes damage to small San Luis Obispo County industries and the hardworking fishermen and women who have lived here for generations. Inviting federal funding and control will inevitably diminish our local voice.

Just like Monterey, our local leaders and local industries will have very little, if any, input in new regulations.

As for regulations, we have plenty of those without adding more. The Central Coast is one of the most responsibly fished waters in the world.

We already have dozens of state and federal departments and regulations to protect our shores, including the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the Clean Water Act, the Department of Fish and Wildlife, CalEPA and the EPA to name a few — all of which our fishermen and women operate within.

We’re not talking about the regulation of Goliath, a major fishing industry giant. We’re talking about David, a local fishing industry full of generations of Morro Bay and San Luis Obispo County fishermen and women, whose livelihood would be suffocated by the costly, redundant and overreaching regulations of the Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary.

The hundreds of local fishermen and women supply our community with locally sourced and responsibly harvested seafood. Because of this, San Luis Obispo County families can buy fish caught directly off of our coast instead of fish farmed or caught thousands of miles away.

The loss of these local fishing jobs would be devastating to these working families and harm our local economy.

And, Morro Bay may have more to lose than just fishing jobs and their voices.

The City Council’s recent adoption of a five-year implementation plan for a new water reclamation facility will surely come at a much higher cost if the marine sanctuary is approved.

Although Supervisor Bruce Gibson gave his support for the sanctuary in December by citing the ecological benefits, he fails to mention the loss of local control, our diminished voice, the exhaustive regulations and the local jobs and families that would be hurt by its creation.

I hope our supervisors can see the bigger picture when the issue comes before them later this month.

Preservation of our beautiful coastline and rich culture is in everyone’s best interest, especially those fishermen and women whose families depend on a healthy catch each year. For 25 years, we’ve questioned the necessity of this program. It’s still a bad idea.

Only without the Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary can we can continue to maintain local control, save jobs and protect our coastal way of life.