Protecting California’s marine ecosystems

As an author of the California Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA), I was disappointed to read recreational fisherman Dick Giuliani’s March 25 opinion piece, in which he argued that the fishing reserves proposed under the act would be disastrous for the state. I’d like to clear up a number of misconceptions and share why I believe the process of selecting marine protection areas as outlined by the MLPA is critical to our future.

The MLPA, which was adopted in 1999, calls for a coherent network of marine protected areas in California waters to preserve the state’s marine ecosystems and natural heritage. This network of protected areas will improve recreational, educational and study opportunities provided by the vibrant marine ecosystems. The MLPA will effectively create underwater parks much in the same way we protect above-ground treasures like Yosemite and Big Sur: The marine protected areas will not be completely off-limits to people, and they are not designed to stop fishing, both commercial and recreational.

Since leaving the Assembly in 2002, I have kept a watchful eye on the MLPA in action and believe that it is being carried out as an inclusive, collaborative process based on the best available science. The groups charged with designating the marine protected areas under the MLPA consist of a broad variety of interests, including small-business owners dependent on tourism, commercial and recreational fishermen, conservation groups and scientists. Additionally, there is ample time during the MLPA process for members of the public to observe it in person or via Webcast and add their voices to the public record. The process of establishing marine protected areas for the health and vitality of California fisheries has included very thoughtful and sometimes spirited debate. It involves reasonable compromises following many detailed discussions.

When you look at the results of the process on both the central and north-central California coasts, you will not find “draconian” closures or evidence of mass adverse economic impacts. In fact, similar charges were levied five years ago before the state marine reserve areas off the coasts of the Channel Islands went into effect. Since then, no discernible, widespread adverse economic impact has been found. Instead, we are finding that fish populations are returning to the area. The marine reserves already in place are indeed working; the MLPA would build on that success by establishing a broader, more coherent network of marine protected areas.

I certainly appreciate the gravity of our state’s fiscal situation, but it is important to remember that every budget Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has sent the Legislature since taking office has included money for the MLPA. We cannot afford to sit by idly while our oceans are irreparably harmed. In fact, California’s coastal economy -- which includes fishing, recreation and tourism -- is dependent on healthy marine ecosystems. California’s coastal waters are among the state’s most precious resources, and it is crucial for our economy and our environment that we protect them.

Our oceans are in crisis. Coastal development, overfishing, acidification from global climate change and pollution are all contributing to the problem, and the time to act is now. We get only one shot at this, and I am confident that through the MLPA’s collaborative process and other conservation efforts, we will succeed.

Fred Keeley, the elected treasurer of Santa Cruz County, represented the Monterey Bay area in the Assembly from 1996-2002.