Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Del Mar, Agua Hedionda Lagoon targeted for reserves

Commercial fisherman Tommy Ptak of Fallbrook puts a white sea bass in a bucket on his boat, the Donna Marie, in Oceanside Harbor on Monday. On Monday night, at a meeting in Carlsbad, state officials updated local residents on the status of a project to redesign marine protected areas that could limit where Ptak and others can fish. 'For every fish I catch about four or five people get a job,' he said. (Photo by Bill Wechter - Staff Photographer)
A worker cleans a sport fishing boat in Oceanside Harbor on Monday. (Photo by Bill Wechter - Staff Photographer)

State updates public on plans for marine protected areas


CARLSBAD ---- Just about every map of proposed marine protected areas on display at a meeting Monday night had the waters off Del Mar closed to fishing, and Jeff Squires wanted to know why.

Squires, an electronics salesman from Carmel Mountain Ranch, said he often drives over to Del Mar after he gets off work to cast a line in the surf and relax.

"There are some nice holes over there," Squires said. "And to catch a nice halibut there is a thrill."

Squires was among 120 people who attended an open-house-style meeting at Carlsbad's Hilton Garden Inn, where state officials updated area residents on the status of an exercise to redesign California's system of protected ocean areas. It is a big project that is scheduled to reach a conclusion around the end of the year.

There were maps outlining each of a half-dozen proposals on the table. Most maps were compiled by stakeholder groups composed of fishermen, environmentalists, coastal public officials and others. A couple were the brainchilds of fishing organizations.

Almost all called for closing the Del Mar area to fishing.

"The whole thing is ridiculous because I release 95 percent of what I catch," Squires said. "I don't take anything home with me unless I hook it wrong and can't release it."

Squires said his hobby can't be harming the local fish populations, which is what the state is trying to shore up.

"I'm all for saving the environment. I'm not against the environmentalists," he said. "What I'm concerned about is not being able to enjoy my recreation."

Alan Marcy of Oceanside, who fishes for bass from a kayak, also was concerned about the emerging proposals.

"It's scary," Marcy said. "I feel pretty bad about the way things are going."

He was worried about proposals that called for restricting fishing at Agua Hedionda Lagoon, one of his favorite places to go.

But Marcy said he was gratified that the groups developing proposals had thus far left waters near Oceanside Harbor alone.

The proposals are an outgrowth of a long, trouble-filled process to implement a 1999 state law, the Marine Life Protection Act, that called for redrawing the boundaries of the current hodgepodge system of protected areas so they better protect the offshore environment in a coordinated fashion.

The state has jurisdiction over the shore to three miles out.

An initial effort at the outset of the decade collapsed because money ran out and scientists developed a plan without consulting the public. When the plan was unveiled, it created an uproar.

Over the last couple of years, a better-funded program has met success in writing ---- and adopting ---- plans for parts of Northern and Central California. And now the state is attempting to piece together one for Southern California, where the enormous population, entrenched fishing culture and fragile environment combine to make any solution a daunting challenge.

But this time fishermen are being brought in on the front end.

While many details have yet to be worked out, some recurring themes are emerging in the six proposals:

-- There is widespread support for a Del Mar protected area that would ban or restrict fishing. Some maps call for extending the area north to Encinitas and south along Torrey Pines State Park.

-- Restrictions on fishing at Agua Hedionda Lagoon are a strong possibility.

-- No one is proposing to create a reserve between Carlsbad and San Clemente. That's largely because the Marines have urged the state to avoid restricting their training along Camp Pendleton.

-- A big fight is shaping up over La Jolla.

There is an existing conservation area off La Jolla that restricts fishing, but it is narrow. Kate Hanley, marine conservation director for the environmental group San Diego Coastkeeper and a member of one of the stakeholder groups, said her group's proposal would extend protection two miles offshore to preserve important habitat.

But the La Jolla area is popular with fishermen. And "Big" Joe Exline, secretary of the Oceanside Anglers Club, said those who fish from a boat would prefer to close Del Mar if it would mean keeping much of the La Jolla waters open.

However, he said, fishermen are trying to keep Agua Hedionda Lagoon open.

"I was there the other day," Exline said. "There were 30 people fishing the bank."

Some who attended thought there were too few proposals on the table.

Whitney Grave, who earned a bachelor's degree from Cal State Long Beach in environmental science and policy last month, was unhappy that two fishing-group proposals survived but an environmental group's proposal did not.

Regardless of the final outcome, Grave said, "I find it disappointing that that voice didn't get to be heard."

The outcome is about a half-year away.

"We're getting toward the final round," Exline said. "It's important for people to say, 'I like this and I don't like that.'"

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