CALIFORNIA MARINE PROTECTED AREAS - DECADAL REVIEW PROCESS

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Ken Kurtis

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This is going out to - as best as I could assemble - scuba diving-related entities (shops, clubs, boats, etc.) in California. The purpose is to keep you informed of the upcoming review process for all of the Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) up and down the California coast and off-shore state-controlled waters. If there's someone you think should be on this list and isn't, please feel free to send me their e-mail address.

If you don't already know me, my name is Ken Kurtis. I'm a NAUI scuba instructor (teaching diving at various levels since 1980), owner of Reef Seekers Dive Co. in Beverly Hills, chair of Chamber Day (annual fund-raiser for the Catalina Hyperbaric Chamber) for many years, volunteer dive team leader at the Long Beach Aquarium of the Pacific, forensic consultant to the L.A. County Coroner for scuba fatalities, and I write occasionally for a couple of scuba publications as well as speak at various dive clubs.

During the initial process of creating MPAs (roughly 2004-2021), I was the diving interests member of the various iterations of what was called the Statewide Interests Group. We basically helped make sure all voices were heard and everyone had access to the process, as well as advised the Blue Ribbon Panel that made final recommendations.

I am now a member of the 17-person Steering Committee for the MPA Decadal Management Review (more on that in a moment) and essentially serve the same function: making sure people like you know what;s going on and making sure you know how to have input should you so desire.

Here's the official explanation of the committee: "The Steering Committee was designed to include balanced representation across a range of audiences, perspectives, and regions, while keeping the group to a manageable size. Steering Committee members were chosen based on their are of MPA-related expertise, existing connection to a broader community or network, and capacity for meaningful participation. The 17-member Steering Committee includes perspectives from: state agencies, Tribal governments and communities, MPA collaboratives, environmental non-governmental organizations, resource managers, academic researchers and scientists, commercial and recreational fishermen, and non-consumptive divers."

There's a lot of ground to cover initially so accept my apology for the length of this initial e-mail to you. But this is a very important process and input is being sought from various ocean-user stakeholder groups. Some background first.

In 1999, the California Legislature passed the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) which mandated the creation of a network of MPAs to protect and strengthen California’s marine resources. Funding for that effort quickly ran out but the effort was reconstituted a few years later and through 2012, a series of panels created 124 MPAs that now cover 852 square miles (roughly 16%) of state waters up and down the coast. Creations of these MPAs was a collaborative process, involving literally hundreds of recreational, commercial, tribal, and other users of our oceans. (You can “use” the ocean even if you just go to the beach to gaze out upon the waves.) Stakeholder groups laid out recommended MPA boundaries and restrictions, these were forwarded to an appointed Blue Ribbon Panel for further review, refinement, and approval, and then that package was forwarded to the CA Department of Fish & Wildlife Commission for final approval. The last of the MPA designations was completed in 2012.

One of the requirements of the process was that there be a review every ten years and we are now approaching that junction. This time around, we will not be creating MPAs from scratch, but will look at existing MPAs and their management, see what’s working and what isn’t, see what public reactions are to changes that have taken place in the last decade, and what adjustments need to be made going forward.

I want to emphasize that my role and that of the other Steering Committee members is NOT to make actual recommendations but to ensure that our various constituencies are aware that this is going on and have the ability to have input into the review process if you should so desire. Regardless of how you may feel about MPAs, one thing I thought was really great about creating them was that the process as very open and transparent. There were lots of folks from various perspectives involved in the working group committees, meetings were open to the public, and then there were other meetings where public comment was not only encouraged but actively solicited.

I anticipate that the upcoming review process will be equally transparent and open.

The process is still being developed but essentially there will be a series of public workshops, many through Zoom for the time being, to lay out for the various constituencies where we are, what we know, and to invite public comment. This is all still a work-in-progress but it’s the type of thing where you can make your voice and viewpoint heard. That’s doesn’t mean things will always break your way, but it does mean that your ideas will at least have a chance. That may not happen if you stay silent.

I will keep you posted as more concrete details and meeting times are created but in the meantime, here’s the initial announcement from CADF&W about the review:

“Decadal Management Review: The First Ten Years of California’s Marine Protected Area Network
“In 2022, California’s Marine Protected Area (MPA) Network will mark the 10th anniversary of its completion. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife is conducting a Decadal Management Review, which will result in a report reviewing the past ten years of the MPA Management Program, evaluating the performance of the MPA Network towards meeting the goals of the Marine Life Protection Act, and making recommendations for future adaptive management actions. The informational report will be presented at the December 2022 Fish and Game Commission meeting - no formal action is expected to be taken at this December 2022 meeting. In 2023, the California Fish and Game Commission will consider the content, findings, and recommendations in the Decadal Management Review and will determine whether to direct the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and implementation partners to pursue specific actions.

“In order to share information and gather input about the Decadal Management Review, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, in collaboration with the Ocean Protection Council, will host public engagement events in 2021 and 2022. The first public engagement events will be a series of virtual Community Meetings, each focused on a specific audience including fishing interests, recreational users, nongovernmental organizations, researchers, MPA practitioners, and other ocean interests. Meetings will be public and will follow the same format and cover the same basic information, with highlights tailored to each particular group’s interests and priorities. The meetings will begin with a brief orientation to California’s MPA Management Program and the 2022 MPA Decadal Management Review, followed by a discussion of perspectives on priorities, definitions of success, and the roles of respective communities in state management of the MPA network. Tribes will also be engaged through separate engagements."

If you'd like to get an overview of everything, this is a good CADF&W website to start with: INTRO TO THE MPA DECADAL MANAGEMENT REVIEW PROCESS.

As I mentioned, my role is to try to keep you informed of what's happening and I will do that through periodic e-mails. This process extends through the end of 2022. If you have any questions, feel free to let me know at mpa_kenkurtis@aol.com.

Thanks for wading through this.

- Ken​
 
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