Jul 12 2016

Opposition to California Offshore Monuments Mounts After Draft Proposal Leaked

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SEAFOODNEWS.COM  by Susan Chambers – July 12, 2016

What do creation of national monuments have in common? A lack of transparency when it comes to discussing the potential access restrictions with stakeholders. That same closed-door effort is happening off of California, as effort mounts to create offshore monuments on both west and east coasts.

California sport and commercial interests first became aware of the proposal to establish monuments around nine seamounts, ridges and banks (SRBs) as rumors a few months ago. In June, the industry got a look at the first proposal draft. Washington State Sen. Kevin Ranker, D-Orcas Island, was urging California state lawmakers and West Coast members of congress in Washington, D.C., to support the proposal that could make the nine areas off-limits to commercial fishing but remain open to all recreational fishing, including charter boats.

Diane Pleschner-Steele, one of the signatories to an opposition letter, noted the proponents argue the nine areas are not significant commercial fishing areas.

“However, the fishermen I’ve spoken with hotly contest that,” Pleschner-Steele, Executive Director of the California Wetfish Producers Association, said in an email. “Those are productive fishing grounds and to lose them forever would be a huge economic blow to many fishermen, processors and local communities.”

Ranker is no stranger to proposed monuments. As a co-chair of the president’s National Ocean Council’s Governance Coordinating Committee, he is one of the advisers to the NOC that provide guidance on the development of strategic action plans, policy and research priorities. In 2013, he worked with Washington leaders to create a national monument in the San Juan Islands.

Nearly 40 people representing sport and commercial fisheries signed on to a letter opposing the designation of monuments that could include Gorda Ridges and Mendocino Ridge off of northern California; Gumdrop and Pioneer seamounts, Guide Seamount and Taney Seamounts off of central California; and Rodriguez Seamount, San Juan Seamount, Northeast Bank and Tanner and Cortes Banks off of southern California.

“We oppose the designation of California offshore marine monuments that prohibit fishing under the Antiquities Act because monument status is irreversible and the Antiquities Act process involves no public peer-reviewed scientific analysis, no NEPA analysis, no public involvement or outreach to parties most impacted – no transparency,” the opponents wrote in the July 6 letter to President Obama, the Council on Environmental Quality, the secretaries of Commerce and Interior and a number of senators and congressmen.

A joint letter from the American Albacore Fishing Association and Western Fishboat Owners Association further note that some of the proponents’ data about the economic importance of the seamounts, ridges and banks is old and outdated. Some fisheries expanded their use of the offshore areas when California imposed marine protected areas in southern California in 2012.

The groups also note the Council Coordination Committee that includes members of the eight regional fishery management councils recently made a resolution that says, “therefore be it resolved, the CCC recommends that if any designations are made in the marine environment under authorities such as the Antiquities Act of 1906 that fisheries management in the U.S. EEZ waters continue to be developed, analyzed and implemented through the public process of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act.”

“in the even this proposal moves forward, we strongly support maintaining management of fisheries under the MSA, through the [Pacific Fishery Management Council],” AAFA and WFOA wrote.

The proponents state the sites are “for discussion purposes only; specific sites, boundaries and regulations will be determined through a robust public consultation process that includes tribes, fishermen and stakeholders. There is a full commitment to working with these interests to better understand the activities occurring in these areas and mitigate potential concern.”

Meanwhile, other groups also are preparing written comments in an effort to fend off the threat of limited access to the nine offshore areas as the opposition grows. It’s unlikely anyone from the seafood industry is fooled by some of the behind-the-scenes political maneuvering that is taking place to create the monuments.

“In our opinion, which is informed by the lack of any attempt at collaboration with industry, this proposal is no more than legacy, political ambition and preservation being prioritized over the best available science and a multi-lateral, collaborative political process in the design of marine conservation measures,” AAFA and WFOA said in their letter.

Click here to read the letter sent to Congressman Huffman.

Click here to read the letter by Sandy Smith of the Ventura County Economic Development Association.

Click here to read the oppositon letter from the National Coalition for Fishing Communities.


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