Keeley: Ocean Politics

April 2, 2013—If you've ever wondered why you should care about Marine Protected Areas—those patches of ocean territory where fishing and other human activity are limited so that depleted fish stocks can recover—watch this video of Santa Cruz County Treasurer and former Assemblymember Fred Keeley at the State of the California Central Coast symposium about four weeks ago. (Article continues below.)

Come to think of it, watch this even if you haven’t wondered about MPAs. Here’s what’s in store along about 4:50, as Keeley describes why the current philosophy governing resource protection in California—a philosophy formed in the 1850s, when California was empty of people and teeming with wildlife—spells trouble for the seas. Keeley knows of what he speaks: he authored the landmark Marine Life Protection Act.

“When you have shifted from managing abundance to managed scarcity — and the legal tools available to you are those which say that unless a resource is in crisis and you can prove it, you can't manage it — that is a prescription in the marine environment for a serial killing, species by species, til we have nothing left.”

Got our attention. But Keeley isn’t a doom and gloom guy. He goes on to call for a sustained political effort to treat the “wet side” of the coastline with as much reverence and vigilance as we treat the “dry side”—in other words, to elevate MPAs and other forms of ocean protection to the same importance as the Coastal Act, which requires rigorous review of all coastal development. And the process will be political, he says—which is a good thing (9:50).

“Don’t treat it like a dirty word. It’s the way that we do business with each other, how we honor each other… how we take points of view and embrace them, points of view that were hard before, points of view that scared us before, and now what they do instead of making us nervous and scared and concerned and rigid, we have processes by which trust and confidence and integrity are encouraged, by which people of the state of California can demonstrate they love the wet side as much as they love the dry side, that policy can be as good and nuanced and sophisticated and granular in the marine environment as it is on the dry side, that marine protected areas are as good as local coastal plans, and together, oh my goodness, how good they are.”

Keeley goes on to give props to the California Ocean Science Trust, which is creating the architecture for monitoring the MPAs—crucial, since we have to be able to measure things in order to protect them—and also urges everyone at the symposium to make the monitoring process inclusive, to reach out to nonscientists like fishers and divers who also value the ocean and are deeply connected to it.

“We want all those people to participate in this,” he says. “Some people get it in their heads, some people get it in their hearts; the really blessed ones get it both ways.”