La Jolla Town Council forms task force to tackle ‘Crisis at the Cove’ and sea-lions situation

La Jolla Town Council (LJTC) held a “Crisis at the Cove: Part II” forum July 14 at the Rec Center to review the findings of the long-awaited report on the sea lion situation by marine mammal expert Doyle Hanan of Hanan & Associates, which was presented to the city last week. Somewhat replicating Part I of the forum, which was held during LJTC’s June meeting (before the study was filed on June 28), attendees offered public comment before asking — what can we do?

But this time, people were done talking, and ready to take action. At the conclusion of the two-hour meeting, Town Council president Ann Kerr Bache proposed the formation of a joint task force of swimmers, divers, business representatives, Town Council trustees, community members at large and people from the greater San Diego area to find a method for dispersing the sea lion population in accordance with the Hanan Report. Further, she said she would like to work with City Park & Rec Director Herman Parker and Congressmember Scott Peters.

Justin Garver, from the office of City Council president Sherri Lightner was the sole government representative at the meeting.

For more than a year, when pressed about deterrence methods to break up the sea lion congregation at La Jolla Cove as the population hauling out there increased, the city said it was waiting for the Hanan Report before taking any sea lion abatement action. Contracted in February 2015, the report detailed one year of California sea lions observation at nine La Jolla Cove locations (the bluffs, the sand, and other surrounding areas). It recorded unique problems with human interaction and the infamous stench, before offering opinions on possible deterrents.

It ultimately concludes that, “With the California sea lion population increasing about 5-6 percent per year, it is likely that California sea lion presence and interactions at La Jolla Cove will increase proportionately. Continual harassment of California sea lion off haul-out areas may temporarily reduce (their) presence and may temporarily reduce California sea lion interactions in the La Jolla Cove area, but the sea lions are not likely to abandon the area. ... The city is in the position to develop strategies of how to best live with them and hopefully take advantage of their presence. Perhaps setting up interpretive learning centers at La Jolla Cove and Children’s Pool, which already are large tourist attractions, would add to the city’s allure as an ecotourism location,” and it states that further research is needed.

San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer and Park & Rec director Parker will review the study before determining if they can take action or solicit abatement ideas. However, Kerr Bache reported Parker has been tasked with “taking the lead and finding a solution.”

At the LJTC meeting, she summarized the report and said it was “good,” but the real issue is, “What do we do next? How do we develop a plan with the city? Because this is not just a La Jolla issue, it’s a citywide issue.”

During a public comment period, Kerr Bache invited those with ideas for dispersing The Cove’s sea lion colony to present them, but said she “didn’t want to get ahead of City Hall.” One idea came from Steven Wright, who said, “based on what the report says and what National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has told us, there are several different deterrent methods from fences and barriers to spraying water, which we could try. It seems you have to tailor the deterrent method to the location and the circumstances.” His idea is to install sprinklers that could pump and disperse fresh or sea water at different times to make sea lions uncomfortable and encourage them to rest elsewhere. Sea lions reportedly like to be dry when they haul out to rest.

“For our particular problem when you look at the bluffs and the beach, a sprinkler system would work really well,” he said.

Marine biologist David Valentine presented a water-shooting gun with an empty two-liter soda bottle affixed to the end, suggesting beach-goers could take them to The Cove and squirt sea lions, which is a legal harassment method under the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) and approved by NOAA.

Referencing MMPA section 109(h), which states the city can authorize someone to carry out NOAA-approved dispersal methods if the animals are considered a nuisance or in the interest of protecting public health and welfare, he said, “Most people agree these (animals) are a real nuisance, they smell bad and make horrible noises … and there are methods to remove these animals, but the city doesn’t want to authorize someone to do it.” (Kerr Bache later told La Jolla Light she would like to see if someone local to La Jolla could be appointed by the city to implement these methods.)

During her time at the microphone, La Jolla Parks & Beaches member Melinda Merryweather said, “I hope we come out of this meeting with something. I am so sick of talk and whining about this. I hope to leave today with something to do.”

Agreeing, Kerr Bache introduced the Task Force plan, which was roundly supported by meeting attendees. “I don’t intend to wait at all. The intention is to start (the Task Force) meetings right away. I’ve already gotten volunteers representing the community, but I’d like more involvement,” she said, and collected volunteer names from the audience. “We’ve already lost Children’s Pool as far as I’m concerned (due to marine mammal presence). I don’t think we should give up The Cove.”

LJTC voted unanimously to form the task force. Those interested in joining are invited to e-mail with the subject of “Task Force.”

La Jolla Town Council meets monthly, 5 p.m. second Thursdays at La Jolla Rec Center, 615 Prospect St.

▪ Doyle Hanan, Ph.D., is president of Hanan & Associates, Inc., a marine consulting firm providing expertise to fisheries and wildlife agencies, municipalities and foundations. After an early retirement as a marine biologist supervisor for California Department of Fish & Game (now known as the California Department of Fish & Wildlife), he was employed as marine director for HDR Engineering, Inc. At CDFG, he directed research teams investigating nearshore and offshore fisheries, as well as, marine mammals, invertebrates and plants. His projects focused on marine ecosystems and population biology; development and implementation of fishery management plans (white seabass plan, CPS plan, market squid plan); applied research, and fisheries analysis.

▪ Hanan designed and implemented observer programs for the shark/swordfish drift gillnet fishery, the nearshore setnet fisheries, salmon troll fishery, and CPFV fishery. He was the states voting member of California Cooperative Oceanic Fisheries Investigations (CalCOFI) and was selected to serve on two standing committees to advise the Secretary of Commerce: 1) Pacific Scientific Review Group which reviews all marine mammal stocks, research and fisheries interactions in the Pacific Ocean; and 2) Drift Gillnet/Pacific Cetacean Take Reduction Team which was charged with developing overseeing a plan to reduce marine mammal bycatch in this fishery.


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