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Environmental, fishing industry impacts discussed at marine sanctuary meeting 

Everyone from environmental activists to seasoned fishermen are weighing in on a proposed national marine sanctuary off the Central Coast.

After announcing a month ago that it was initiating the designation process for the Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is now fielding public opinion on it.

click to enlarge LAND PROTECTIONS A proposed national marine sanctuary on the Central Coast would stretch from mid-Santa Barbara County up to Cambria. - PHOTO BY ROBERT SCHWEMMER, NOAA
  • Photo By Robert Schwemmer, NOAA
  • LAND PROTECTIONS A proposed national marine sanctuary on the Central Coast would stretch from mid-Santa Barbara County up to Cambria.

"The designation of a Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary would protect the region's important marine ecosystem, maritime heritage resources, and cultural values of Indigenous communities, while allowing NOAA to manage compatible uses within its boundaries," NOAA wrote in a Nov. 9 statement.

U.S. Rep. Salud Carbajal's office issued the announcement alongside NOAA, expressing strong support for the potential designation.

NOAA will hold three public scoping meetings to hear more from local residents and stakeholders. Multiple speakers at a Dec. 13 meeting expressed support for the sanctuary, namely for the environmental benefits associated with it and the protection of Chumash sites.

"This region is incredibly biodiverse and is a known biological hotspot. ... It is home to many endangered species," said Kristen Hislop, marine program senior director at the Environmental Defense Center. "In contrast to this, it is also a region threatened by climate change, as many are, as well as other industrial uses such as oil and gas development."

According to NOAA, there's also economic benefit.

"The marine resources in the region includes feeding grounds for numerous species of whales and dolphins, sea otter populations, kelp forests, and is home to vital commercial and recreational fisheries," a statement from Carbajal's office said. "These resources are essential to California's $1.9 trillion coastal economy and supports $731 billion in wages, according to NOAA."

But others at the public scoping meeting voiced their concern about increased regulations.

"Both Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties are already some of the most highly regulated counties in the state, and it makes it very difficult, especially when we're competing to grow local food with other states like Arizona and Florida, and other countries including Mexico," said Claire Wineman with the Grower-Shipper Association of Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo Counties.

Commercial fisherman Owen Hackleman, who's been fishing out of Morro Bay for 12 years, said the similarly designated marine sanctuary in Monterey has impacted the commercial fishing industry there, and he's concerned about such changes here.

"We do have really well-managed and sustainable fisheries by state and federal agencies' [standards], and we're really proud of that," Hackleman said. "... We've seen that the [Monterey Bay] National Marine Sanctuary management doesn't necessarily keep its word as far as not taking a very active role and influencing fisheries, policy, and management."

If the sanctuary moves forward, Hackleman said he'd like to see "extremely strongly worded language to ensure that local sustainable fisheries are allowed to continue the way they are."

The process toward sanctuary designation is just beginning: Public scoping meetings are step one in a four step process. The next public hearing will be held Jan. 6. People can register for the meeting at sanctuaries.noaa.gov/chumash-heritage. Δ

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