Environment & Science

Marine protection plans stalled in California by lawsuits, inaction

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Court challenges have stalled plans to create protected areas in the ocean between Santa Barbara and the Mexican border.

The Marine Life Protection Act aims to protect California's economic, educational and environmental interests in coastal waters. State Fish and Game commissioners approved a set of closures for the South Coast region last December.

But the rules aren’t yet law – the state's administrative law experts haven't yet looked them over, as required to make them final. Groups of fishermen including United Anglers have sued to stop the protections from ever kicking in.

They argue that the Department of Fish and Game has no authority to close areas in the ocean, and that officials didn't do an open or full enough environmental review in Southern California. The Ocean Conservancy and the Natural Resources Defense Council are helping to defend the Marine Life Protection Act in court.

Regional aquariums and environmental groups are still optimistic. They're training volunteers to observe marine life populations and monitor their numbers in the event the closures take effect.