SYS-CON UK Authors: Salvatore Genovese, Jeremy Geelan, Jamie Matusow

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Commission Hears Final Testimony on North Coast Ocean Protection Plan

Residents voice support for compromise proposal

SACRAMENTO, Calif., May 14 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Today in Sacramento, the Fish and Game Commission is holding a public comment hearing on plans for a network of underwater parks, or marine protected areas (MPAs), along California's north central coast (between Half Moon Bay and Point Arena).

After today's meeting, the Fish and Game Commission is expected to make a final decision on the north central coast MPA network at an adoption hearing scheduled for August 5 in Woodside.

"The ocean is a vital part of California's culture and economy, and the decisions considered today will have ripple effects for generations," said Karen Garrison, Co-Director of NRDC's Oceans Program. "For decades, we've protected California's special places on land with state and national parks. We need to take the same kind of action underwater to restore our fragile ocean environment."

The plan before the Commission today, known as the Integrated Preferred Alternative, was developed over two years, forty public meetings, and a thorough scientific and economic review. It would protect ocean life along some of the region's key sites, including the Farallon Islands, Point Reyes, and Fitzgerald Marine Reserve, while leaving 88.5 percent of state waters open for fishing.

"Fishermen, divers, conservationists, and other coastal residents put their blood, sweat and tears into this plan," said Ocean Conservancy's Samantha Murray, who served on the north central coast Regional Stakeholder Group charged with designed the local MPA network. "No one got exactly what they wanted but the Integrated Preferred Alternative is the best compromise that will work for both fish and fishermen."

The Integrated Preferred Alternative draws from proposals developed by conservationists and fishermen. It reflects the best available science and on-the-ground knowledge supplied by local divers, anglers, business owners and environmentalists. It would place 11.5 percent of north central coast state waters into fully protected marine reserves.

"Marine reserves have been proven through numerous scientific studies to help restore damaged ecosystems and replenish fish populations," said Dr. Lance Morgan of Marine Conservation Biology Institute. "By setting aside the north central coast's most sensitive habitat, we can help ensure the long-term health and productivity of our nearshore waters."

All MPAs are open for surfing, diving, swimming, wildlife viewing, study and research. Marine reserves provide the greatest level of protection for ocean life and habitat by fully protecting these resources from consumptive activities like fishing. Fishing is allowed with some restrictions in other MPAs, including marine conservation areas and marine parks. The Integrated Preferred Alternative plan's nine marine conservation areas and two state marine parks would allow some fishing.

"As a lifelong diver, I've seen our seas changing firsthand. An increased demand for fresh seafood and pressures simply related to the development of our way of life are taking a toll on marine resources," said dive instructor and Regional Stakeholder Group member Francesca Koe. "A strong network of marine protected areas can help mitigate this decline and create buffers -- which also happen to provide great wildlife viewing opportunities for people both above and below the water's edge."

This is the second phase in a multi-year public process to implement the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA). Funding for the MLPA is 95 percent intact this fiscal year, thanks to a public-private partnership. The MLPA was passed in 1999 to safeguard the health and productivity of California's coastal waters. It is the first state law of its kind, requiring a science-based, community-designed, statewide system of marine protected areas.

For more information, visit www.dfg.ca.gov/mlpa or www.caloceans.org.

SOURCE Natural Resources Defense Council and Ocean Conservancy

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