Byline: Taylor Hill
MONTEREY — The California Fish and Game Commission voted 3-2 to approve a revised South Coast Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) implementation plan on Oct. 19, following the state Office of Administrative Law’s rejection of the previously proposed regulatory package in September.
The previously proposed South Coast Region regulations, formulated under a process created after the passage of the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) initiative, were rejected by the Office of Administrative Law (OAL), which is required to oversee new agency regulations, making sure documents are clear, necessary, legally valid and available to the public.
The OAL cited a number of reasons for the rejection, including the Fish and Game Commission’s failure to provide reasons for rejecting alternative MPA plans that were considered in the planning process, failure to respond to all of the public comments made regarding the closures, failure to form a statement of specific purpose for adoption of each closure and failure to explain why each provision of the adopted regulations is required to carry out the MLPA’s goal.
The Fish and Game Commission’s decision to move forward with the revised plan sends the South Coast Marine Protected Areas regulatory package back to the OAL, which will once again review the document and either approve or reject the implementation plan.
The previous rejection postponed the Fish and Game Commission’s proposed October enforcement date for new no-take zones until Jan. 1, 2012, but the commissioners said they do not expect any further delays in the process.
Most of the needed revisions noted by the OAL dealt with answering additional public comments that had not been addressed or giving further details on why specific areas were chosen for certain levels of marine protection status, compared to others.
One area discussed during the meeting was the exclusion of the San Dieguito Lagoon Marine Park (located south of the Del Mar fairgrounds) from the future Marine Protected Areas.
Fish and Game commissioners amended the decision to include the San Dieguito Lagoon, but to reclassify it as a State Marine Conservation Area while keeping the current restrictions in order.
During public comments, George Osborn, representing United Anglers of Southern California, disputed the commission’s actions to move forward with a re-designation for San Dieguito Lagoon without giving an explanation for the re-designation.
“The OAL found that the commission failed to explain the reasons for the elimination of the San Dieguito Lagoon State Marine Park,” Osborn said. “In the proposed modifications, the commission proposes to restore this MPA and reclassify it as a State Marine Conservation Area (SMCA), but it does so with no explanation of any kind for action in its statement of reasons.
“This repeats its failure to disclose reasons for regulatory action, which is especially puzzling, since both the commission’s original decision to eliminate this MPA and its current proposal to restore it as an SMCA are inconsistent with all three alternative network recommendations made by the regional stakeholders groups,” Osborn said.
While the commission moved forward with approval of the South Coast MPAs, Fish and Game Commissioner Daniel Richards noted that the enforcement and monitoring of the planned network of no-take fishing areas is still without funding — and it is expected to cost approximately $40 million.
“California, … this commission and we, as the legislature, are going to be guilty of doing things that we know we are not able to do — but we’re going to adopt it anyway,” Richards said, expressing his disagreement with the decision. “We’re going to put regulations out there, and we’re going to take away resources for the enjoyment of the public that we are supposed to be protecting.”