Wednesday, March 4, 2009

North County Times

Groups submit ocean protection plans

Oceanside angler outlines fishing group's proposal

By DAVE DOWNEY - Staff Writer | March 4, 2009

In a sort of shot across the bow, a local angler unveiled a statewide group's proposal Tuesday to restrict fishing in 10 percent of Southern California coastal waters, while keeping harbor areas such as Oceanside open.

"Big" Joe Exline, secretary of the Oceanside Anglers Club, presented the proposal on behalf of the Fishermen's Information Network at a Long Beach meeting of the South Coast Regional Stakeholder Group.

The group's 64-member panel, comprising scientists, environmentalists and fishermen from throughout Southern California, is working to create a system of marine protected areas stretching from Santa Barbara to the Mexican border. The effort is an outgrowth of a state law, the Marine Life Protection Act, which aims to reverse a sharp decline in ocean fish populations in recent decades by redrawing ---- and expanding ---- the boundaries of California's existing hodgepodge collection of protected areas.

Panel members are just beginning to talk about which areas should be fenced off to fishermen and which places should be left alone, and are months away from refining a plan that ultimately will be handed off to the California Fish and Game Commission late in the year.

But on Tuesday, special interest groups got their chance to put forth their own proposals for protected areas. And three such proposals were made.

Aside from the one from the Fishermen's Information Network, proposals were submitted by the United Anglers of Southern California and an environmental coalition consisting of Santa Monica Baykeeper and Santa Barbara Channelkeeper.

The anglers proposed restricting fishing along 20 percent of the coast and the environmentalists advocated overlaying 33 percent of the ocean with protected areas.

Following several relatively quiet meetings that focused on laying the ground rules, the presentations sparked a testy exchange between fishermen on the panel and presenters from the environmental coalition.

Buck Everingham, a panel member who owns a San Diego-area bait company, suggested that the conservationists' plan would largely wipe out close-in sport fishing opportunities for boats heading out from San Diego Bay. He was referring to their proposal to restrict fishing around Point Loma and La Jolla.

"You've pretty much annihilated the Point Loma half-day fleet," he said.

Tom Ford, executive director for Santa Monica Baykeeper, said he was only aiming to protect fish populations, and had no intention of putting people out of business.

"I'm not out to get anybody here," Ford said.

Scott McCreary, a facilitator for the state's Marine Life Protection Act Initiative, sought to diffuse the tension in the room by underscoring the preliminary nature of the proposals on the table, and the likelihood many changes will be made in the months ahead.

"We are far from the finish line," McCreary said.

For now, the starting point is being framed by the sharply contrasting proposals of the statewide fishing network and conservationists.

The plan Exline outlined called for restrictions on 239 square miles of coastal waters between the shoreline and three miles out, the point where the state cedes jurisdiction to the federal government.

That compares with the existing system of protected areas, which spans 180 square miles, or 7 percent of the region's coastal waters.

"We created a strong backbone all along the coast," Exline said.

He said the Fisherman's Information Network suggests creating a half-dozen new protected areas and increasing the level of protection in some existing areas.

In North County, he said, the group proposes creating a 10.7-square-mile protected area off of Del Mar. It would be a "state marine reserve," meaning all fishing would be banned.

"It's an area that, even though it has some good offshore rocky habitat, it has less (boat) traffic than other areas," Exline said.

The group also would create a San Dieguito Lagoon reserve and convert the existing La Jolla conservation area ---- where some limited fishing is allowed ---- into a reserve.

The plan would largely leave Oceanside and San Diego Bay alone. Exline said the group chose not to restrict fishing around harbors.

"We want to have the least economic impact on the communities and fisheries," he said.

The proposals are posted at The group's proposal is listed as "Draft External Proposal A."

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