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Unnecessary protection 

Designating a national marine sanctuary off the coast of SLO County isn't needed to protect an already protected ocean

In 1974, President Ford established the first National Marine Sanctuary 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 National Marine Sanctuaries 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 Power Plant and Vandenberg Space 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, it cannot be claimed that the entire area is. The proposed sanctuary is approximately 7,000 square miles. Its total area vastly exceeds what is thought to be necessary to recognize and preserve the Chumash tribal history the sanctuary seeks to protect. How large of an area is necessary to protect these discrete locations?

The original map area of the proposed sanctuary has been changed to exclude the proposed Morro Bay 376 Wind Energy Area—the first large-scale industrial offshore wind farm off the West Coast. While the area has been excluded from the proposed sanctuary, 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 sanctuary, a study prepared for the Sierra Club, the proposal could, and this is a very big could, add $23 million 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. 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 pounds of seafood annually with ex-vessel revenues of $8.75 million. 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 sanctuary with increased tourism. The Sierra Club's report also associates a marine sanctuary with UNESCO heritage sites for increased tourism. The proposed sanctuary is not a UNESCO site.

People already come here for the clean beaches, wildlife, Morro 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 proponents of the sanctuary opine that tourism will benefit from its designation, they fail 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 sanctuary would "prohibit the sighting of offshore oil and gas rigs that would likely get built without the [National Marine Sanctuary] designation." California blocked any new oil and gas drilling in 1969. U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-California) 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. 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 national marine sanctuary, the commercial fishermen of Morro Bay have some concerns over dredged material removal. Currently, the materials are taken offshore and dumped. The concern is that materials may have to be taken farther out at an increased cost. An increased cost could jeopardize the regular maintenance of the harbor, something commercial fishermen have fought for more than 34 years after veteran Al French lost his life on a routine return to Morro Bay. There is much concern that an additional layer of permits will slow down the entire process, putting lives at risk once again.

Water quality is a huge part of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary and since the sanctuary designation, an entire industry of water quality control testing and reporting has sprung up for area growers. Every year, the costs associated with testing and reporting water wells increases and becomes more cumbersome for our local growers.

As for climate change claims, many commenters opine that establishing the Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary will help address the impacts of climate change. Without regard to the veracity of that statement, merely establishing a sanctuary will not, in any way, address the underlying causes of climate change nor mitigate against its impacts.

Commercial fishermen on 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. Δ

Lori French is the director of the Pacific Coast Federated Fishermen's Association and a member of the Morro Bay Commercial Fishermen's Organization. Send a response for publication to letters@newtimesslo.com.

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