Does the West Coast Governors’ Agreement serve all?

Fishermen fear the plan is a threat to what they consider an already overregulated industry.

By Melonie Magruder / Special to The Malibu Times

The announcement last month that the governors of the three western coastal states—Arnold Schwarzenegger in California, Christine Gregoire in Washington and Theodore Kulongoski in Oregon—had agreed upon an “Action Plan” to protect coastal resources was met with cheers by environmental groups and anxiety by others with economic interests tied to coastal activity.

The West Coast Governors’ Agreement on Ocean Health is an initiative designed to advance the goals of maintaining healthy ocean habitats. The three governors worked to prepare a draft action plan that was released in October of last year and was open to public commentary through December.

Using that input, a final Action Plan was released last month with a seven-point general agreement to focus on clean coastal waters and beaches, healthy ocean habitats, effective ecosystem-based management, reduced impacts of offshore development, increased ocean awareness in regional citizens, expanded coastal scientific research and monitoring as well as sustainable economic development of coastal communities.

Heal the Bay Spokesperson Sarah Abramson said, “We were very involved in providing input and research into shaping the Agreement and think it does a good job of outlining priorities and focusing on a larger comprehensive effort to create a greater good.”


However, some fear they might not be included in that greater good. Vern Goehring is manager of the California Fisheries Coalition, an association of 26 recreational and commercial fishing businesses, whose members “advocate for cleaner oceans and sustainable marine resources,” according to their Web site.

Their members contribute more than $5.5 billion annually to the state’s economy and Goehring fears that the Agreement’s eco-management of coastal resources means little more than further restriction of commercial fishery operations.

“My position is that we’ve seen these kinds of platitudes about coastal stewardship from the governor before,” Goehring said in an interview with The Malibu Times. “But in practice, it means blanket restrictions on commercial fishing licenses rather than smart management of marine ecosystems.”

Goehring says the fishing industry is one of the most highly regulated industries in the state and blanket restrictions of business operators, without comprehensive consideration of their activities, only serve to hurt the coastal economies it strives to protect.

“The California Fisheries Coalition only represent small commercial fishing organizations,” Goehring explained. “We’re talking small family businesses who support local economies. When the Marine Life Protection Act enacted ocean closures along the central coast, commerce and tourism in places like Morro Bay went down significantly.”

The Marine Life Protection Act is a 1999 initiative designed to manage coastal resources in California, bringing together opinions from all concerned stakeholders: scientists, resource managers, experts and public members.

Goehring said the only new regulatory point in that initiative was to restrict fishing.

“There was nothing about ocean dumping or steps to alleviate pollution,” Goehring maintained.

He continued, “Regulations are in place for all commercial fishing activities with regard to season, location, gear type and amounts you can take. It doesn’t serve our members’ purpose to wipe out fish population. So we believe careful conservation and management is the answer. Let’s give science credit for adequately shaping current regulation.”

Goehring’s group believes that a greater threat to coastal health comes from pollution and degraded coastal regions that have seen marine populations die off, including from “red bloom,” the algae that proliferates at watershed runoffs loaded with fertilizers.

This view is supported by studies from Heal the Bay and other coastal management organizations.

“We urge the governors to focus on marine debris and water quality,” Abramson said.

Brian Baird, assistant secretary for oceans and coastal policies in the Governor’s office, confirmed that primary strategies in the Agreement address marine habitats, problems with eroding beaches and water quality.

“We have the resources and political will to make significant ecological change that will affect the entire west coast,” Baird said. “Proper resource stewardship is important, but we are identifying 26 different actions in our Plan.”

Baird said the Action Plan’s focus will not be to restrict fishing, but to address problems like climate change and rising sea levels, ocean pollution from runoff and elimination of invasive plant species on the coast.

“We’re working with special interest groups and all stakeholders, like Heal the Bay, to put our management teams together,” Baird said. “We absolutely encourage coordination with fisheries.”

Goehring said his coalition has not been approached for input since the Governors’ announcement was released.

“We work with the NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) to make sure that our coasts don’t suffer over fishing,” Goehring said. “Our experience has been that, when we provide public commentary and participate in MLPA coordination, none of our major issues are addressed. But any effort to protect the vibrancy of our coastal ecosystems must carry the support of the people whose livelihoods depend on the ocean.”

The West Coast Governors Action Plan task force is currently implementing defined strategies and expects to have a progress report within eighteen months.

More information can be obtained by visiting the Governors’ Agreement website:

The Malibu Times is the first newspaper in Malibu, serving the community since 1946.

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