After two years of attempted collaboration between local environmentalists and fishermen, plans to extend the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary are still floundering in a sea of uncertainty.
The Channel Islands Sanctuary Advisory Council received a recommendation from the Marine Reserves Working Group on Wednesday at Victoria Hall in downtown Santa Barbara, regarding the potential extension of the 1,252 mile sanctuary. Within the boundaries, certain areas could become reserves, dubbed “no-take zones,” which prohibit all extraction or harvesting of marine resources. SAC will make a final recommendation to the Fish and Game Commission after its June 19 meeting.
MRWG, created by SAC to engage additional experts and community members in the issue, offered a limited recommendation to the council. The recommendation listed an agreed-upon set of ground rules, a mission and problem statement, issues of concern, and goals and objectives for reserves and implementation recommendations. However, MRWG failed to come to a consensus on a singular spatial recommendation for no-take zone boundaries.
Approximately 200 people, including representatives from over 15 interest groups, attended the public forum. Ninety-two people spoke about the potential size of the expansion, the majority in support of conservation, during public comment.
SAC Co-chair Matthew Pickett praised the amount of public input at the forum. “I’m impressed once again by the passion and the intelligence of this community to stick with this process over the last two years,” he said.
CINMS, located 25 miles off the Santa Barbara coast and encompassing the waters around Anacapa, Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa, San Miguel and Santa Barbara Islands, was created in 1980 and has not been extended since.
Many UCSB students, who decorated the inside of Victoria Hall with posters, along with community environmental activists, urged SAC to recommend a no-take reserve 30 to 50 percent the size of the sanctuary.
“This issue right here has a huge impact on all of us. … I think now is the time to send a message loud and clear than we want to protect our fish, we want to protect our fisheries and we want to protect our planet,” said John Gallo, a representative of Conception Coast Project. “We can adjust, but we can’t bring a fish back from extinction.”
Michael Harrington, a resident of Santa Barbara and 35-year-old commercial fisherman, argued that the process of extending the CINMS may be hasty, and that dramatically extending the sanctuary could prove damaging for certain areas, since divers and fishermen will be concentrated in designated locations.
“I find it funny that we are suddenly in a big hurry to get this done. What we are trying to do in two years, it took Florida 10 years to come up with. You are trying to build the biggest reserve in the continental United States in a fifth of the time they did in Florida,” he said.
“We want to protect the sanctuary; we want marine reserves,” Isla Vista resident and I.V. Parks and Recreation District Director Diane Conn said. “You wanted to hear from the public, that’s what we are telling you.”
SAC will consider the public input and come up with a formal recommendation to the Fish and Game Commission on June 19. The place and time for the meeting are to be announced.