These compromises did not satisfy Australia’s commercial fishing industry, whose officials described the new safeguards as a “rush to Rio,” where the government was overly invested in making a splash for its conservation efforts.
“Tens of thousands of families in Australia’s regional communities will be damaged by the government’s proposals,” Brian Jeffriess, a spokesman for the Commonwealth Fisheries Association, said by e-mail. “This is a kick in the guts for these forgotten communities who have been sacrificed so that the government can tell the world that Australia has the biggest parks of all.”
In California, the new marine network has generated less controversy because an array of interest groups met to craft each section of the plan. The chain of more than 100 protected areas puts 8 percent of the state’s waters off-limits to any extraction, while imposing restrictions on an additional 7 to 12 percent of coastal waters.
“In 20 years working on these issues, I’ve never seen such a public process,” said Michael Sutton, vice president of the California Fish and Game Commission. “Everyone who had a stake had a say.”
On a flight two years ago over Point Sur, Sutton pointed from the cockpit of his Cessna to the dense cover of kelp forest below, which received full protection under California’s plan. “These are the redwoods of the underwater world,” he said.
Not everyone endorsed the final plan: Just before the commission’s unanimous approval of the Northern California portion of the network last Wednesday, Yurok Tribal Chairman Thomas P. O’Rourke Sr. issued a statement saying, “The proposed project simply does not do enough to address tribal rights.”
But several other area tribes did endorse it, and Native American tribes elsewhere are leading the drive to protect marine areas. Pat Pletnikoff, who serves as mayor of St. George Island in Alaska’s Bering Sea, journeyed to Washington this week to lobby for the creation of a national marine protected area that would cover 60 miles around the island.
The proposal would bar trawl equipment that is damaging two massive underwater canyons there but still allow local Aleuts to fish there. Pletnikoff, who also serves as chairman of the St. George Fishermen’s Association, said he told the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Fisheries Service director, Eric Schwaab, on Wednesday that the federal government needs to act to protect the area’s fur seals and marine birds, as well as the tribe’s subsistence rights.
“We want to protect the whole ecosystem,” he said in a phone interview. “It’s suffering terribly, and something needs to be done.”