In Defense

In defense of local marine sanctuary study

Sanctuary opponents who are questioning economic benefits are misleading the publicScreen Shot 2015-09-08 at 2.10.44 PM

Last summer, we were contracted by the Sierra Club to prepare a short report on the potential economic impacts of a proposed Central Coast National Marine Sanctuary.

We were careful to point out the assumptions we made, the data we used and the uncertainties involved. Our study included important new data that had never been used before, as well as standard data and tools, and presented a conservative overview.

Both of us have conducted research on economic issues for many years, and we are affiliated with academic institutions that demand rigor and honesty.

We found that a new sanctuary off the Central Coast would generate, at minimum, millions of new dollars in economic activity and dozens of new jobs. It has the potential to make up to hundreds of millions in additional income and up to 600 new jobs, if the community chooses to market the new designation as a tourist draw.

Sadly, instead of engaging in a good-faith discussion, sanctuary opponents have attacked our study with unsubstantiated claims and misinformation.

Given that these unfounded attacks seem to have found a life of their own and are being repeated as fact in publications like this one, it is necessary for us to respond.

First, the opponents of the marine sanctuary claim that our economic estimates of benefits are too high. We presented a range of estimates based on the experience of other national marine sanctuaries in California, along with standard economic data that is accessible to the public. While no economic projections are ever entirely precise, we believe our estimates are reasonable.

Those who think the federal government is unlikely to invest millions of dollars in a new Central Coast sanctuary, as it has for many years in every other California sanctuary, they need to cite a good reason why. Simply saying that our numbers might be wrong doesn’t meet that bar.

Second, opponents think tourism is unlikely to increase if the sanctuary is designated.

If opponents really think the tourist industry in the region has no room to grow and that a new sanctuary designation would not make the region more attractive to tourists, they need to provide evidence for their thinking.

Finally, opponents of the proposed sanctuary have continued to cite an opinion piece that asserts the sanctuary will create high costs to the fishing community. In fact, the sanctuary proposal includes not a single new fishing regulation or restriction, and bars any future such regulation. The only industry that would be negatively impacted would be the oil and gas industry, as it would be prohibited from new offshore development in sanctuary waters.

If anything, restricting oil and gas development offshore would benefit the fishing industry. Nothing is a greater threat to their livelihoods than an oil spill, and the necessary onshore support systems for the offshore oil industry would compete with the already limited shore space available for fishermen. If opponents of the sanctuary want to state their support for oil and gas drilling, they should do so plainly.

There is a debate to be had surrounding the proposed sanctuary. Its establishment would bring change to the community. Our research indicates the Central Coast community would likely be better off with a sanctuary, and that it is a relatively low-risk/ high-reward endeavor.

There are those who disagree, and they should be heard. But this debate should revolve around real arguments, real issues and facts. So far, the opponents have resorted to misinformation and fear-mongering; one has to wonder what their agenda is and whose interests they represent.

Jason Scorse is director of the Center for the Blue Economy at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey. Judith Kildow is director of the National Ocean Economics Program at the Center for the Blue Economy.

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