Another Marine Sanctuary is Unnecessary

In 1974, President Ford established the first National Marine Sanctuary (“NMS”) off North Carolina- The USS Monitor National Marine Sanctuary. It was established to protect the shipwreck, and is currently being considered for expansion to protect additional shipwrecks. Currently, there are five NMS off the West Coast, four of which are located off the coast of California. California also has 124 Marine Protected Areas with an additional five Groundfish Conservation Areas. Here on the Central Coast the waters off of Diablo Canyon Nuclear Plant and Vandenberg Air Force base are restricted and hinder our ability to provide you with fresh seafood sustainably harvested.  Another protected area is just not needed off the Central Coast.

While there may be discrete areas worthy of designation within the footprint of the proposed Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary (CHNMS), it cannot be claimed that the entire area is. The proposed CHNMS is approximately 7,000 square miles. The total area of the NMS vastly exceeds what is thought to be necessary to recognize and preserve Chumash tribal history NMS seeks to protect. How large of an area is necessary to protect these discrete locations?

It should be noted that the original map area of the proposed sanctuary has been changed to exclude the proposed Morro Bay 376 Wind Energy Area (WEA) – the first large-scale industrial offshore wind farm off the U.S. west coast). While the WEA has been excluded from the proposed NMS, what about the infrastructure necessary to get this unproven resource ashore such as substations (fixed and/or floating) and transmission cables? It is likely that these high voltage components of the wind farm will have to cross through the proposed Sanctuary.   

 According to the Potential Economic Impacts of the Proposed NMS – a study prepared for the Sierra Club, the proposed CHNMS could, and this is a very BIG could, add 23 million dollars per year and create almost 600 jobs. 

“1. Government expenditures on Sanctuary offices, staff, and infrastructure, as well as additional research money raised by Sanctuary staff.

 2. Money raised by local NGOs and academics to conduct Sanctuary-related research.     

 3. Increased coastal tourism and the increases in relevant business revenues from it (due to both market signaling and improved ocean and coastal resource stewardship.)

4. Increased property values, property taxes, and business, local, state and federal tax revenues due to Sanctuary proximity.”                

Government money spent on Sanctuary offices and infrastructure is linked to construction and provides temporary jobs. According to the NMS of California Average Budget Per Sanctuary, 2005-2014, there were 18 Federal and Contracted jobs. The Potential Economic report, using employment multipliers from IMPLAN (economic modeling software) predicts a TOTAL of 44 new jobs. This is a very far cry from the touted 600.  We must also be cognizant that jobs may be lost as a result of the Sanctuary’s designation.  Between 2010 and 2017, local fishermen landed. On average, 5 million lbs. of seafood with ex-vessel revenues of $8.75 million dollars. It bears noting, ex-vessel revenues are dollars paid to local fishermen and does NOT include the downstream economic benefits, which surely exceeds the $23 million boasted by proponents of the Sanctuary.  In effect, there may be a net economic loss to the local economy if the Sanctuary greatly impacts commercial fishing in the area.

There is no clear link and no current research that connects a NMS with increased tourism. The Potential Economic Report also associates a NMS with UNESCO Heritage Sites for increased tourism.  The proposed CHNMS is NOT a UNESCO site. People already come here for the clean beaches, wildlife, the Rock, fishing, and water sports. We have plenty of tourism already. The proposed growth and jobs coming from increased tourism are not head of household jobs, and put a strain on local infrastructure and housing. While the proponents of the NMS opine that tourism will benefit from its designation, it fails to provide how.  If you are standing on the beach looking out from any of the 156 miles of coastline, encompassing approximately 7,000-square miles of ocean – it won’t look any different than it does today.  Sure, there may be a few more signs and a visitor center, but the ocean won’t look any different.

The Proposed Economic Impact Report States that the CHNMS would “prohibit the sighting of offshore oil and gas rigs that would likely get built without the NMS designation.” California blocked any new oil and gas drilling in 1969. Senator Feinstein has introduced a bill, The West Coast Ocean Protection Act, which would permanently ban oil and gas drilling in Federal Waters off the Coast of California, Oregon and Washington. Currently President Biden has put in place a temporary moratorium. The people of California have a vested interest in protecting their coastline from contamination from oil spills–as does the fishing community.

While dredging is still permitted within a NMS, the commercial fishermen of Morro Bay have some concerns over the spoils removal. Currently, the spoils are taken offshore and dumped.  The concern is the spoils may have to be taken farther out at an increased cost. An increased cost could jeopardize the regular maintenance of the harbor, something the commercial fishermen have fought for over 34 years after veteran Al French lost his life on a routine return to Morro Bay.

Water quality is a huge part of the Monterey Bay NMS and since the NMS’s implementation an entire industry of water quality control testing and reporting has sprung up for the area growers. Every year the costs associated with the testing and reporting of wells goes up and becomes more cumbersome for our local growers.

 As for climate change claims, many commenters opine that establishing the CHNMS will help in addressing the impacts of climate change.  Without regard to the veracity of that statement, merely establishing a NMS will not, in any way, address the underlying causes of climate change nor mitigate against its impacts.

Commercial fishermen of the Central Coast also have a rich history with the local waters and that should not be ignored. There is strong pride in being able to provide a healthy food source from our local waters to the public who might not otherwise have access. Commercial fishermen strive to protect the ocean that sustains their livelihoods, but feel that another layer of protection is just not needed where there are already a wide variety of protected areas off of the Central Coast in addition to Federal and State management measures protecting the fisheries. 

Lori French
Morro Bay

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