Opinion: California takes the lead in protecting the oceans

On Dec. 15, 2010, California took a big step forward towards sustainable management of our largest public resource—the ocean.The Fish and Game Commission voted to adopt a network of marine protected areas, essentially underwater state parks, that will stretch from Santa Barbara to the Mexican border, forming the southern stretch of what is to be a statewide system that dots our entire coastline like a sapphire necklace.

The Commission’s historic move brings us closer to meeting our goal long-term productivity and health for state waters.  As Commissioner Richard Rogers noted the hearing, “The overarching goal is to return California to the sustainable abundance I observed growing up.”

That is precisely the motive that led us to craft the law that set this critical process in motion 10 years ago.  We knew the demands we were placing on the ocean were rapidly outstripping its ability to supply our needs.. We created the Marine Life Protection Act to preserve California’s coastal way of life through the establishment of a science-based network of protected waters.

Today that vision has become a reality. Thanks to the foresight of the Commission, its advisors, and the thousands of Californians who stood up for smart ocean stewardship, we can look forward to a healthy ocean future for our state.

As we prepare to welcome the new underwater parks for southern California, which will be implemented this year, we open another chapter in California’s trailblazing efforts at the vanguard of smart natural resource management. By extending our stewardship over our land to the sea, we are creating the first unified, statewide system of marine protected areas.

The success of the MLPA process is largely down to its inclusive nature. Never, in all my years in politics, have I witnessed such an open, transparent, “bottom up” system. We can rest assured that democracy in action, in this case, has succeeded with flying colors.

The approved plan was a compromise that combined ideas from commercial and recreational fishermen, tourism-dependent business owners, conservation groups and scientists. The plan was designed to balance environmental and economic considerations, leaving nearly 90 percent of the coastal ocean open to fishing while preserving gems like south La Jolla and Catalina Island. We now look to the north coast, which is well on its way to creating a series of underwater parks and thus completing the statewide

We know these protected areas will benefit sea life and people because countless peer reviewed studies have proven as much.  And, we’ve seen them work: marine protected areas established in the Channel Islands in 2003 give us a glimpse of what we can look forward to from southern California’s new underwater parks. During her testimony at last week’s Fish and Game Commission  meeting, Dr. Jenn Caselle of UC Santa Barbara’s Marine Science Institute explained how her research team has found increased more and bigger fish and lobsters, which are beginning to spill out into open waters.

And, it’s not just fishermen who will benefit.  Divers, kayakers, snorkelers, tidepoolers, and birders will all get to enjoy thriving ocean areas for years to come. Just as we have always protected treasured landscapes, we have now set aside the Yosemites of the Sea, so our kids and grandkids can experience majestic kelp forests and giant black sea bass in future years.

I am proud to have helped lay the foundation for this visionary ocean protection plan, and appreciative of the hard work and broad community participation that have made it work so well..

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