December 15 – San Diego Ocean Protection Takes Historic Step Forward

Fish and Game Commission approves network of “underwater parks” including critical protections for some of San Diego’s marine areas

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San Diego – Dec. 15, 2010 – In a landmark decision, the California Fish and Game Commission (FGC) today voted 3-2 to adopt a network of marine protected areas (MPAs) that will stretch from Santa Barbara to the Mexican border.  San Diego’s new MPAs will include locations at Swamis in Encinitas, south La Jolla, Point Loma and Imperial Beach, areas that San Diego Coastkeeper has worked to protect over the past four years. These protected areas will join the existing network of MPAs in the statewide system of underwater parks called for in California’s ocean conservation law, the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) adopted with bipartisan support in 1999.

The FGC voted in favor of the Integrated Preferred Alternative (IPA), a compromise plan that combines MPA proposals from fishermen, divers, conservationists and scientists. The governor convened a Blue Ribbon Task Force of policy experts to review a selection of MPA proposals created by a group of 64 representatives from Southern California, including a San Diego Coastkeeper representative.  In December 2009, the Task Force unanimously recommended the IPA to the Commission for adoption into law.

This afternoon, following lengthy review and before adopting the IPA into law today, the FGC made several small boundary modifications to a selection of the MPAs. These included a slight expansion of the conservation area at Swamis in Encinitas, adding just over a mile of protection at this geography. The Swamis conservation area is the largest in San Diego at over three shoreline miles and ten-square-miles of protected area. It will allow for spear fishing and shore fishing by hook and line gear.

The size of the marine reserve at south La Jolla was also expanded by two city blocks so that boundaries would be more easily recognized by the public, providing this area with just over seven-square-miles of critical protection. The reserve in south La Jolla now stretches from Palomar Avenue to Missouri Street in Pacific Beach. In addition, the historic marine protected area at La Jolla shores, stretching to the Scripps pier, has been retained.

The MLPA planning effort has sparked an outpouring of public support from elected officials, local businesses, community organizations and scientists. Thousands of San Diegans and Southern Californians attended meetings, made public comments or signed petitions supporting improved ocean protection.

“We’ve been working toward this historic vote for more than four years,” said Meagan Wylie, San Diego Coastkeeper’s Marine Conservation Manager. “It’s like a savings account for our ocean—set a little aside so it can recuperate and thrive and we will all—fisherman, residents, recreational users, marine life–benefit from the interest.”  

At today’s final meeting in Santa Barbara, the FGC heard testimony from elected officials, conservationists, scientists, fisherman and recreational users, who testified for the Commission to set aside strong marine protection areas for the good of the community.

“We are on the side of fishermen, protected areas protect their business,” said Jean-Michael Cousteau, the first son of ocean explorer Jacques-Yves Cousteau. “I want future generations to have the same privileges I’ve had.”

The compromise IPA plan will protect sea life and habitats at biodiversity hot spots—San Diego’s include south La Jolla and Swamis– while leaving nearly 90 percent of the coast open for fishing (see a map of fishing areas left open).  The new MPAs will improve access for recreation, study and education while boosting the overall health of California’s ocean.

Marine protected areas (MPAs) are a scientifically proven tool for improving the health of marine life and habitat. A five-year review of protections around the Channel Islands has shown that MPAs have greater diversity and productivity than similar fished habitats, without any decline in sportfishing.  

“Every place you are considering here today is as worthy of protection as Yellowstone and Yosemite,” said student Adam Livingston in his public testimony.

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