State seeks input on Marine Protected Areas along Southern California coast

Science advisors for the state’s marine life protection act are meeting in Los Angeles Thursday. California also wants regular people from the Southland to weigh in on where it sets environmental protection off the coast. KPCC’s Molly Peterson reports regular people can be hard to find.

Molly Peterson: About half the state’s population lives between Santa Barbara and the Mexican border. That’s millions of people who want to fish or sail or scuba dive in the ocean. That’s also a lot of people in a lot of places where marine life lives. The California Department of Fish and Game has to figure out how to protect that marine life – and it’s complicated.

Melissa Miller-Henson runs Fish and Game’s outreach program for marine protected areas. She says resources managers are working earlier and harder to learn what Southern Californians think about those protections. Miller-Henson says a “stakeholder group” of 64 volunteers has been debating and mapping areas where the state could decide to keep people out.

Melissa Miller-Henson: From harbors and marinas, to fishermen, to kayakers, to surfers, to conservationists, etc., someone on that stakeholder group is going to represent my interests, going to represent your interests. That’s the person sitting at the table negotiating on your behalf.

M.J. Kennedy: My name is M.J. Kennedy. I’m from Port Hueneme, California.

Peterson: Kennedy fishes the ocean from his kayak. He’s one of the volunteers in the stakeholder group. Some recreational fishermen have bent his ear about their favorite spots. Others aren’t paying attention yet. Kennedy says most Californians aren’t, either.

Kennedy: The broad range of the public, I don’t think there’s awareness at all, at all. And it’s unfortunate. All the users, all the interests. It’s just so hard to come together and agree. And I think that’s one of the biggest challenges, but we’re really working hard at doing it.

Peterson: In the next month, state officials are stepping up public open houses in Southern California where they’ll show off proposed protected regions. They’re planning to choose protected ocean areas by the end of the year.

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