Byline: Taylor Hill
REDDING — At its Sept. 16 meeting, the California Fish and Game Commission agreed to push back the original Oct. 1 enforcement date to implement 49 new Marine Protected Areas — no-take zones — along Southern California’s coast to Jan. 1, 2012.
The commission was forced to change the implementation plan after the state Office of Administrative Law (OAL) rejected the proposed South Coast Region regulations — formulated under a process created after the passage of the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) initiative. The OAL oversees new agency regulations, making sure documents are clear, necessary, legally valid and available to the public.
“A lot of people were alarmed by the wording of the notice — and this is kind of an unusual notice to see,” said Fish and Game Commission executive director Sonke Mastrup. “But it’s not uncommon for commission staff to deal with these types of issues directly with OAL.”
The OAL listed a number of reasons for its decision to disapprove the planned regulatory action, 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 commission is hoping to resubmit the South Coast Marine Protected Areas regulatory file by Nov. 1, and is attempting to make revisions necessary to meet the demands of the OAL. The revised regulations will then be re-reviewed by the OAL, which is expected to make a decision by Dec. 16. If the revisions are approved, the regulations would be finalized.
“It’s important we comply with all of the requirements of administrative law in California,” said Fish and Game commissioner Michael Sutton. “We’re fortunate to have the OAL’s help in doing that.”
While commissioners said they saw the delay as an opportunity to better inform anglers and affected ocean users of the new regulations, George Osborne of the Partnership for Sustainable Oceans — an organization that has represented anglers and boater’s interests throughout the MLPA process — said the delay gives the commission the chance to look at all of the dangers to marine life without singling out anglers.
“This so-called MLPA Initiative project has been on a fast track since its beginning, while ignoring statutory requirements and with decisions being made in private meetings behind closed doors — resulting in lawsuits and increased scrutiny from the OAL,” Osborne said. “With the delay in the effective date, you now have an opportunity to address real issues addressing harm to the ocean environment, and not just single out fishing.”
On Dec. 15, 2010, the Fish and Game Commission adopted regulations to create a series of Marine Protected Areas — essentially no fishing, or no-take zones — in the South Coast study region. Developed pursuant to the MLPA, the network of 49 MPAs and three special closures covers approximately 354 square miles of state waters and represents around 15 percent of the region.
The South Coast Region would be the third of five regions to get MPAs implemented through the MLPA process.