Oregon Steps Up Marine Protections

Oregon state regulators passed a bill to establish three new marine reserves in state waters, and sent it to the governor’s desk for finalization.

Despite Oregon’s coastal habitats being home to 32 threatened and endangered species Oregon had been the only state on the West Coast with no marine protected areas until it established two small pilot reserves covering less than four square miles, January 1.

The three highly protected “no-take” zones at Cascade Head, Cape Perpetua, and Cape Falcon, will cover a total of 37 square miles, and will be surrounded by areas adding 73 square miles of lower level of protections. The goal is to facilitate significant ecosystem regeneration across multiple areas, while minimizing negative social and economic impact.

Oregon’s move joins a trend of increased ocean conservation measures like marine protected areas and shark finning bans by West Coast states. Once the new protections take effect, likely in 2015, a total of 9.4% of Oregon’s coastal waters will have some level of protection.

While this is a win for marine conservation, it is just a first step if we are going to restore marine ecosystems to full health. Marine reserves are protected in name only, unless there are adequate enforcement resources.

Lieutenant Ethan Wilson, of Oregon State Police Fish and Wildlife Division, said, “We are getting some additional funding but not enough to hire new personnel. Some of these will be in addition to our normal duties so some overtime will be involved.”

About 20 percent of Oregon’s 114 Fish and Wildlife officers are stationed along the coast.

Then there is the issue of community support. New protections won’t likely take effect before 2015, so researchers can establish baseline data on the ecosystems, which helps regulators to know they are effective, and establishes buy-in from the public and stakeholders. The most successful MPAs are bolstered by strong community involvement and support, and while the new marine protection bill is “not a perfect piece of legislation,” according to Oregon Senator Betsy Johnson,  it passed with a 25-5 majority because it balanced the concerns of environmentalists and fishing groups.

Oregon seems to have improved upon the contentious MLPA process seen in California, as fishermen and conservationists are collaborating on conservation efforts.   

This shift in thinking has surfaced in Europe as well, where Dr. Steve Mackinson, coordinator of Europe’s GAP2 project, said “Failing fisheries management is costing us dearly. Yet we often exclude and blame those who are best placed to effect change. If reform of the Common Fisheries Policy is to be sustainable, fishermen themselves need to be included in the decision making process.”

Conservationists and fishermen are increasingly cooperating on research and education (as we discussed here). The more this happens, the closer we will be to a healthy ocean.


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