Wednesday, August 04, 2010 @ 2:12:00 PM - Written by -- Patrick McGreevy Los Angeles Times
When you think of powerful Sacramento interests, you don't normally think of the recreational fishing lobby. But the fishing industry played a key role in the political demise of a Fish and Game commissioner who tangled with the industry over the issue of marine reserves off the coast of Southern California.
Fish and Game Commissioner Don Benninghoven supported a proposal to nearly triple, to 387 square miles, the amount of coastal waters between Santa Barbara and Mexico that are under protection from recreational fishing, saying it would help depleted fish populations rebound and thrive. The proposal is being fought by several groups including the Southern California Marine Assn., a trade organization for recreational fishing boat operators that argued it goes too far and would create an economic hardship.
Benninghoven, a Santa Barbara resident, was appointed a year ago by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger after serving on a task force that recommended the controversial expansion of marine reserves. With the commission divided on the proposal and Benninghoven representing a potential deciding vote for passage, the fishing groups opposed his confirmation in the Senate Rules Committee. The senate panel is not scheduled to act by the one-year anniversary of his appointment Wednesday, meaning Benninghoven will be forced to leave the commission Wednesday. "If he was instrumental in recommending [the expansion of protected waters], what was the chance he was going to vote for any other proposal on the table," said Bob Brown, a spokesman for the association. "They needed to put some other, more neutral person on the commission." The association supports a less ambitious expansion of marine reserves, he said.
Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) chairs the Rules Committee and declined to schedule a confirmation vote in part because the Senate is reluctant to act on long-term appointments that would serve beyond when Schwarzenegger leaves office at the end of this year, said Alicia Trost, a spokeswoman for Steinberg. But the opposition to Benninghoven also appears to have played a role. "He’s not without controversy," Trost said.
Benninghoven said he hopes the political opposition to his confirmation does not jeopardize expansion of marine reserves. "I was disappointed, but I’m just hopeful the governor will appoint someone else soon who shares a commitment to the Marine Life Protection Act," he said.
Schwarzenegger does plan to make another appointment before he leaves office, according to spokesman Aaron McLear.
-- Patrick McGreevy
Los Angeles Times
Today, local paper Times-Standard had a story about Assemblyman Wesley Chesbro, D-Arcata, that made a request for a 6 month stay in finalizing the Marine Life Protection Act as it would exist here on the north coast.