In response to recent articles and letters in support of the Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary, I would like to provide some history on the topic.
In 1990, the City of Morro Bay joined with SLO County in a resolution supporting the concept of a Central Coast National Marine Sanctuary in order to stop offshore oil development. Even then, it was a controversial subject because our local fishermen feared that it would mean more regulation or limitation of their fishing options.
In 1992, the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary (MBNMS) was formed. The formation documents specified that there was no intent to regulate fishing, and there was a promise that local citizens would be strong participants in the Sanctuary’s management. Unfortunately, the National Marine Sanctuary Program has not lived up to those promises.
In 2001, when expansion of the MBNMS to include the Central Coast was suggested, I contacted Monterey Councilwoman Ruth Vreeland (now deceased), an ardent environmentalist who had been instrumental in the creation of the MBNMS. Vreeland told me she regretted her support for establishing the Sanctuary. She stated that the impacts of the Sanctuary had negatively affected not only fishing, but also dredging, and visitor-serving businesses in Monterey.
She was particularly offended by Sanctuary management’s authority over its citizen’s Sanctuary Advisory Council (SAC), specifically control of the agenda, selection of councilmembers, and that decisions were made in Washington D.C. without giving any consideration to the suggestions and concerns of the local community. In fact, the SAC members were prohibited from communicating directly with elected officials unless given specific permission from the federal management staff. As a result of this and other information, the Morro Bay City Council opposed expansion of the MBNMS, but supported the concept of a separate sanctuary with binding local control.
By 2003, a slightly different Morro Bay City Council, with increased concerns over the MBNMS attempts to impose fishing regulations, as well as the continued unresponsiveness to the local community, passed Resolution 27-03, opposing expansion of the MBNMS and also opposing creation of a Central Coast Marine Sanctuary.
As a direct result of the 2003 Sanctuary expansion controversy, the Marine Interest Group (MIG) was created. This group of local stakeholders, which included fishermen, scientists, environmentalists, elected officials and other concerned citizens, provided a venue for discussing sanctuary issues, fishing impacts, and protection of our valuable coastal resources. While no final resolution was reached, the process was an example of how we can work together to protect our coast without adding federal controls.
In 2012, another Morro Bay City Council, concerned with efforts again being made by the local Sierra Club and others to establish a Central Coast Sanctuary, and awareness of the continued problems faced by Monterey’s fishing industry and Santa Cruz’ harbor dredging, passed Resolution 18-12 reiterating the City’s opposition to a sanctuary without guaranteed local control.
The current Sanctuary proposal, the Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary, makes the same promises made by the MBHMS to not regulate fishing or dredging. But once established and under federal control, Morro Bay and Port San Luis will have no authority to keep those promises from being broken again.
Recognizing this, the current Morro Bay City Council again voted to oppose the Sanctuary. Their decision, however, includes the possibility of support if some specific additions are made, including designating commercial fishing as a protected resource and establishing a 5-mile offshore boundary to protect Morro Bay’s essential annual dredging and potential wind farm project. The most important addition would be the requirement that the Sanctuary Advisory Council be comprised of a panel of local stakeholders who will be directly impacted by its provisions, and that they be guaranteed binding authority in management decisions.
The addition of these provisions could resolve many of the continuing concerns, and now is the time to support their inclusion in the Chumash Heritage Sanctuary management proposal. Hopefully the Sanctuary proponents will appreciate and encourage these modifications.
Former mayor of Morro Bay