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New Fish and Game Commission member to vote on marine protection

August 4, 2009 |  7:53 pm

On the eve of a key vote on protections for fish, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has appointed a new member of the Fish and Game Commission, the five-member state board charged with mapping out protected areas under the 1998 Marine Life Protection Act. The government's decision to appoint Donald Benninghoven on Tuesday afternoon followed the resignation of the commission's president, Cindy Gustafson, on Friday morning.

Gustafson resigned after receiving notice from the state attorney general that her new position as general manager of the Tahoe City Public Utilities District, a local water authority, constituted a conflict of interest.

Environmental groups had voiced their support for Benninghoven's appointment, worrying that Gustafson's resignation would result in a 2-2 tie over proposed marine protections from San Mateo to Point Arena.

"Given the gravity of the votes this week, the governor's office acted quickly and was responsive," said Adrianna Shea, deputy executive director for the Fish and Game Commission.

Benninghoven served from 2007 to 2009 on the state's Blue Ribbon Task Force on the Marine Life Protection Act. On Wednesday, he will sit on the commission as it reviews the task force's recommendations on the location and strength of protections in marine areas.

The plan to establish a network of protected marine areas has been the subject of contentious debate among fishermen, conservationists and other interested parties. Conservationists say protecting certain areas is the only way to rejuvenate declining fish populations, while recreationists want to fish and boat where they please. Marine reserves have already been established in other parts of the state.

Shea said Benninghoven is "very well-versed" on marine protected areas and the Marine Life Protection Act. On other upcoming issues, she said, the commission will be "getting him caught up as quickly as we can."

--Amy Littlefield