From abundance of marine life to scarcity to recovery – Santa Cruz Sentinel


In previous articles in this series celebrating the 30th anniversary of the establishment of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, you were able to get a detailed history of this massive undertaking. Ocean heroes Dan Haifley and Sam Farr have filled these pages with in-depth reviews of the science, politics and community organizing that culminated in this important designation.

More will follow as Sanctuary Superintendent Lisa Wooninck shares her thoughts on the future of the Sanctuary while Leon Panetta speaks about the formation of the Sanctuary.

Fred Keley

In this edition, we’ll see what doors opened because of the sanctuary designation in 1993. To do that, we’ll go back a bit in California history.

For thousands of years, the indigenous peoples of the Central Coast have lived in harmony with this wonderfully bountiful region. Whether it is fishing sustainably, hunting in a similar way, or respecting the rhythms of nature in all respects, indigenous peoples have had a light touch on their environment. Tribal President Valentine Lopez often shares his cross-generational story of these peaceful and intelligent practices during his many speeches and conferences.

When, on September 9, 1850, California joined the United States as a free, slave-free state, everything began to change. The Gold Rush of 1849 was in full swing. Hydraulic mining (pointing high-pressure water pipes at entire hillsides to flush gold into swamps to separate the gold from the mud) was used with little regard for anything other than gold. On the coast, hundreds and then thousands of miners, prospectors, investors, merchants and more poured into the San Francisco and Monterey Bay areas. Fishing and hunting were easy, as schools of fish and herds of deer were plentiful.

An initial element of the California Constitution included the creation of the California Fish and Game Commission. There is hardly any other state that places an F&G commission in its constitution. Primarily, the F&G feature was a revenue stream from hook and bullet licenses. The question then was “how to manage abundance”, and the element of action was to do very little.

By the middle of the 20th century, millions of people had made California their home, hundreds of thousands of new people arriving every year. Nearly 70% of these newcomers chose to live within an hour’s drive of the California coast. With very little active fish and game management, the new challenge was to manage scarcity rather than abundance. However, little or no action has been taken to move from passive to active management of these important natural resources.

In 1969, the Santa Barbara oil spill awoke residents (and, perhaps more importantly, voters) across California to the dangers posed to marine life, human life, and water quality. by the continued exploitation of gas, oil and overfishing. Scientists, policymakers, local communities and indigenous peoples have mobilized to end this uncontrollable devastation of our public resources. While oil and gas drilling was the main focus of grassroots opposition, the less publicized loss of species and reduction of marine life in general was the subject of serious study by ocean and marine scientists.

Some of the most respected and thoughtful marine scientists had already, in 1969, studied this subject and had come to several conclusions. For example, the Marine Life Research Group at the Scripps Institute of Oceanography has investigated the decline of ocean species since the late 1940s. By the late 1990s, these marine scientists and others had concluded that “if we want to establish sustainable use of (ocean) resources for the 21st century, the current state of many of our marine fisheries dictates that a major overhaul of the existing management structure is required.”

Other scientists, coastal farmers, coastal businesses serving visitors, local governments and constituents have been made aware of the need for major changes in the management of ocean resources. Local marine scientists, such as Pete Raimondi and Mark Carr of UC Santa Cruz, were among the leaders of the effort.

The work of these great scientific minds and others began to move from science to political action. The Natural Resources Defense Council, the Sierra Club, the California Public Interest Research Group, the Center for Marine Conservation, the League for Coastal Protection, and the California League of Conservation Voters engaged in dialogue with my office during my service in the Assembly of California. The basic idea was, through landmark legislation, to completely change the way the marine resources of California’s coastal waters were managed. Switch from passive management to active management.

At the start of this work to make significant management changes, some commercial and recreational fishers were, to say the least, skeptical. They feared that comprehensive fisheries management would threaten their businesses. The Sportfishing Association of California and the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishers have both expressed serious doubts.

When Assembly Bill 1240 “The Marine Life Recovery and Management Act” was introduced on February 28, 1997, negotiations on this public policy began in earnest. There was no disagreement that marine resources, especially fisheries, were in decline. However, there was a lively debate about what to do about it. AB 1240 began to run the gauntlet of the legislative process, and, with each step along the way, more and more clarity emerged as to this solution. In the political committees of the Assembly and the Senate, the bill moved closer and closer to the consensus between the parties to the conflict. Through the amendment process, commercial fishers gained important assurances that fish stocks would increase, rather than destroy their livelihoods.

Pietro Parravano, a multi-generational fisherman from Half Moon Bay, proposed provisions that “integrate fishers into the fisheries management process at all stages of the implementation of the bill”. On the other hand, the Natural Resources Defense Council was able to obtain amendments that “declare that the general objective of the State in marine management is the conservation, restoration and sustainable use of healthy ecosystems” . The League for the Protection of the Coast wanted “a proactive approach to fisheries management based on principles of sustainable management consistent with federal law. The preparation of scientifically sound comprehensive management plans will significantly improve the state’s fisheries. AB 1240 has been modified to achieve these goals.

Admittedly, the legislative process, which by nature is iterative, ends in a place that is not. It ends at the governor’s office. In 1998, then Governor. Pete Wilson, a Republican, was completing his second and final term as California’s chief executive. His administration had been lukewarm to AB 1240 on his winding path to his office. In March 1997, however, Wilson and his Resources Secretary, Douglas Wheeler, wrote: “A variety of coastal and ocean industries, including fishing, marine aquaculture, biotechnology, tourism and recreation depend on the maintenance and enhancement of California’s ocean and coastal habitats and living resources. These resources, and the economic base they support, will benefit significantly from the development of a comprehensive program to sustain California’s ocean ecosystem in the 21st century and beyond.

Seeing that there was a political opportunity to achieve historic policy for our coasts and oceans, we began a full court press on Wilson to sign AB 1240 into law. From across California, hundreds of organizations and individuals have flooded the governor’s office with letters, calls and faxes urging Wilson to keep his word since 1997.

On the last night to sign or veto the legislation, Wilson signed AB 1240 into law, and the protection and enhancement of our coastal resources became a reality. None of this would have been possible if the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary had not been created and promoted as a model of cooperation and consensus for ocean protection.

In the next article, we will examine whether or not the lofty aims of this important legislation have had the desired positive impact on our coasts and oceans. Stay tuned.

Fred Keeley represented the Central Coast in the California Assembly from 1996 to 2002. He is a founding board member of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary Foundation. He is currently running for mayor of Santa Cruz in the November elections.

About this series

The Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary celebrates its 30th anniversary this fall, and the national sanctuary system celebrates its 50th anniversary. Ahead of the anniversary, the Sentinel will feature articles by former US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, as well as Sam Farr, Dan Haifley, Fred Keeley and Sanctuary Superintendent Dr. Lisa Wooninck. All of these contributors serve on the board of directors of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary Foundation and participated in the designation of the sanctuary. For more information, visit


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