Monday, August 3, 2009

City of Del Mar Concerned MLPA Will Hurt Tourism, Economy

(By the North County Times)

REGION: State marine areas taking shape

An expanded, retooled system of state-protected marine areas along the coast is beginning to take shape, and there could be major implications for North County.

Three proposals are on the table for a network covering Southern California from Point Conception to the U.S.-Mexico border. Each of them would create dozens of protected areas along the coast, and two of the surviving proposals would create a 10-square-mile marine reserve ---- in which no fishing would be permitted ---- along the 3-mile length of Del Mar.

There also is talk of upgrading the level of protection for North County's lagoons by banning fishing there, and of creating an 11-square-mile state marine conservation area off Encinitas that would limit, but not eliminate, fishing.

Del Mar officials are concerned about the proposed reserve off their coast.

They worry that a reserve designation, akin to the creation of a wilderness area on land, would restrict recreational and maintenance activities on their city's beaches, which annually draw 2 million people.

"Would we be able to sweep the kelp that rises on the beach? Would dogs be allowed on the beach? What about diving, snorkeling, swimming and surfing? We haven't been able to get answers to our questions," said Del Mar Mayor Crystal Crawford, in a telephone interview last week. "And if they are going to prohibit certain activities, what is that going to do to our tourism-based economy?"

Officials with the San Diego Association of Governments, a regional planning agency, are worried, too. SANDAG is planning a major beach sand restoration project for 2012, and one of the best places to mine sand is offshore of Del Mar ---- in the middle of the proposed reserve.

Both SANDAG and Del Mar fired off letters to the state last week outlining their concerns.

Third round

The proposals for protected areas are being developed by a 64-member group of environmentalists, fishermen, divers, public officials and others.

The proposals were refined through two rounds of negotiations during the first half of this year in extensive meetings. The third and final round is poised to get under way this week in North County, with meetings in Carlsbad on Monday and Tuesday.

By late in the year, the diverse group is expected to deliver some options to a task force of appointed members. That task force in turn will forward a recommendation for a network of protected areas to the California Fish and Game Commission, which will have the final say on what the network will look like.

It's all being done in response to the 1999 Marine Life Protection Act, which ordered a reorganization of the state's hodgepodge of offshore protected areas ---- between the shore and three miles out ---- with the goal of shoring up depleted fish populations and bolstering fragile ocean habitat.

But the primary tool to accomplish the goal is restricting fishing.

An initial stab at crafting a revised network of reserves earlier this decade collapsed when scientists were assigned the task. After meeting privately, scientists unveiled a sweeping plan that triggered an outcry from stunned fishermen.

This time around, the state is attempting to provide a firm path toward adoption by involving fishermen on the front end. It is a strategy that has worked in other parts of the state in recent years.

But even with the fishing industry's upfront input, reaching a middle ground that all sides can live with is proving to be a daunting challenge in Southern California, given the huge number of people who fish and recreate in the ocean here, and the region's enormous environmental problems.

Four of the proposals that emerged from the second round were advanced by subsets of the giant stakeholder group. Two others were offered by fishing groups.

Disappointed so far

There are similarities among the three surviving proposals beyond the Del Mar piece. For example, all of them would fence off large areas around the biologically rich Channel Islands to fishing and other human activities.

And most of the proposals provide a layer of protection over 16 to 17 percent of the state waters off the Southern California coast.

Some proposals rely heavily on state marine reserves, which ban fishing. Others would create marine conservation areas that allow some fishing.

At this point, none of the proposals provides the level of protection for marine life that the task force guiding the process had hoped for.

"We are disappointed in the results that have come to us at this point," said Don Benninghoven, chairman of the task force, at a meeting in Santa Monica last week.

Consequently, said Jenn Feinberg, ocean policy consultant for the environmental group Natural Resources Defense Council, the focus going forward should be providing more protection.

"We are trying to minimize socioeconomic impacts, but we can't just make the science optional," Feinberg, a member of the stakeholder group, said during the meeting. "We really need to focus on that in Round 3. That's what this is all about."

John Guth, a Bonsall resident and president of California Lobster and Trap Fishermen's Association, said by telephone interview that what the process seems to be all about, despite inviting fishermen to the table, is pushing for the maximum possible level of restrictions.

Sacrificing Del Mar for La Jolla

"This is going along the way we figured it would," Guth said. "They've included us in the process, but the process is, to me, so convoluted. I think it is something that is being rammed down our throats. They are going to take some really key areas before it is all over."

Kate Hanley, director of marine conservation for San Diego Coastkeeper, however, said the environmentalists and scientists working on the plan aren't trying to ram anything down anybody's throats, nor are they looking to shut the fishing industry down.

"We just want to make sure that there are fish for future generations ---- and healthy ecosystems," Hanley said by telephone Thursday.

One of the biggest battlegrounds in the bid to designate ocean wilderness is at La Jolla, site of some of the region's most robust kelp beds and diverse habitat.

"That's your creme de la creme," Hanley said. "La Jolla has everything."

La Jolla is also one of Southern California's best fishing holes. And it is popular with divers, science researchers and kayakers.

Conservationists are proposing to fence, not all, but a large portion of state waters off La Jolla. But fishing groups are working to keep almost all of La Jolla open and proposing to turn Del Mar into a big reserve instead, because of its relatively low fishing activity.

It seems, said Mayor Crawford, that some don't care whether Del Mar recreation is sacrificed in the pursuit of striking a balance between fish and the fishing industry.

"But we care," Crawford said.

And Del Mar Councilman Don Mosier, a scientist and recreational fisherman, said there isn't much to gain by preserving the waters off Del Mar.

"It is just sandy bottom," Mosier said. "It doesn't have much kelp."

According to a Fish and Game report, the proposed reserve has some environmental value. It is connected to two estuaries and is a place where migrating fish such as swordfish, striped marlin and thresher sharks forage.

But Hanley said that value is small.

"Del Mar, in my opinion, is probably the least biodiverse habitat that we can be looking at in San Diego County," she said. "And there's no coincidence that that's where a lot of the sand comes from for sand replenishment ---- it's a gigantic sand pit."

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