Wednesday, September 9, 2009

State May Change Protected Marine Areas on San Diego's Coast

San Diego 6 News Team

A state marine advisory panel meets in San Diego today to discuss the 43 protected habitats off Southern California and any recommendations for adjustments.

The state is in the process of remapping the protected areas based on the health of the habitat and fish populations, and any recommendations will eventually be handed up to the Fish and Game Commission.

"Small-scale fisheries are the most vulnerable to being hurt by a misplaced marine reserve," said Peter Halmay, a sea urchin diver. The San Diego County coast has 10 protected marine habitats. The Marine Life Protection Act of 1999 authorized the state Fish and Game Commission to reorganize those territories with more consistent standards.

But establishing new preserves will be a formidable task, because local fishing groups wield considerable political power, Russell Moll, director of the California Sea Grant program at the UC San Diego.

The objective is to preserve distinctive and highly productive segments of undersea habitat, such as the rocky reefs and kelp beds off Point Loma and La Jolla. But many of the same spots are treasured by sport anglers and commercial fishermen.

"Every mile of coastline in Southern California is somebody's favorite fishing ground," said Bob Fletcher of San Diego, president of the Sportfishing Association of California.

The group represents about 135 operators who take people on sportfishing trips.

"The key area for us to worry about are the near-shore areas used by half-day and one-day (charter) boats, which can go only 10-15 miles from their ports," Fletcher said. "We need to position the marine protected areas so they won't devastate sport-boat operations up and down the coast."

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