California's celebrated Pacific coast gained 30 new ocean sanctuaries Wednesday at an emotional meeting that saw conservationists prevail over state financial concerns.
Benninghoven was appointed the day before by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to replace Cindy Gustafson. She resigned suddenly Friday after the attorney general's office ruled her job posed a conflict of interest.
The new preserves cover 153 square miles of ocean between Half Moon Bay and Mendocino. Starting Jan. 1, fishing will be permanently banned or restricted in the zones.
The vote marks the second phase of California's celebrated Marine Life Protection Act, which in 2007 created 29 similar preserves between Santa Cruz and Lompoc. The process has been held up around the world as a model of collaboration and foresight in protecting ocean habitat.
Conservationists vowed the move would allow fisheries to bounce back from years of depletion, producing abundance for future generations.
"The planet is in peril and the oceans are the lifeblood of our planet," said Christopher Chin of the Center for Oceanic Awareness, Research and Education in San Francisco. "It's imperative we keep our ocean healthy and happy."
Others said the process should be delayed given the state's budget crisis.
Commissioners Daniel Richards and Jim Kellogg voted against the new preserves, saying California lacks the resources to manage them.
The Department of Fish and Game estimates "adequate" law enforcement in the statewide preserve network would cost $27 million in the first year and $17 million annually thereafter. It has nowhere near that level of funding.
The new state budget includes $4 million in bond funds to help launch both scientific monitoring and enforcement in the new preserves. It also includes money for 15 new game warden positions statewide. And federal and local agencies have offered to help.
But Richards, of Upland, called this inadequate.
"The magnitude of the problem vs. the offers of assistance don't match," Richards said. "I'm not going to fake it. We have zero ability to properly do this program."
His point was driven home by Todd Tognazzini, president of the California Fish and Game Wardens Association. He said the state patrol vessel in Morro Bay was unable to operate last week because game wardens were furloughed.
When it did operate Sunday, wardens caught two lawbreakers who should have known better, he said. One was a California Highway Patrol officer fishing in a limited-access Morro Bay preserve without a fishing license; the other was a State Parks superintendent fishing in the closed Point Buchon preserve. Both got warnings.
"The race to implement more areas must be stalled," Tognazzini said. "There is no scientific validity to any marine reserve unless enforcement is in place before the reserve is created."
More than 100 people testified at Wednesday's meeting, which lasted six hours. Many were fishermen who supported a smaller alternative.
Mendocino County's Point Arena fishing community is particularly concerned: It will now be bracketed by closed or restricted zones.
"It will cause severe socioeconomic impacts," said Alan Jacobs, a retired fisherman and teacher in Point Arena. "All we want is to continue our chosen lifestyles of being active participants in our marine ecosystem."