Thursday, October 22, 2009

Fishing hearing roils waters

OCEAN: Anglers and environmentalists square off over protected zones.

By Kristopher Hanson, Long Beach Press-Telegram

10/21/09- Protestors line the sidewalk outside the Hilton Hotel where an MLPA meeting is taking place. The protestors are disputing the location of boundaries for the underwater park claiming to much fishing restrictions. Kevin Donahue, holding the blue sign says he's a regular family man who wants to protect his families right to fish. Photo by Brittany Murray / Press Telegram

LONG BEACH - Commercial fishermen, recreational anglers, restaurateurs, marine biologists and state authorities packed a raucous public hearing Wednesday as California considers expanding restrictions on fishing zones off hundreds of miles of Southern California's coast.

Between Santa Barbara and the Mexican border, three proposals being considered by an appointed five-member panel pit against each other anglers who trawl local waters for a living and simple recreation and those wanting greater protection for fragile marine ecosystems.

The panel was formed to implement marine protected areas, or MPAs, as part of the Marine Life Protection Act of 1999, a state law designed to encourage greater scientific and biological approaches to what had previously been a mismatch of laws governing marine life off California's roughly 840 miles of coastline.

Proponents of the strictest proposal, known as Map 3, which restricts significant sections surrounding the Channel Islands and Palos Verdes Peninsula from fishing, believe the area has been overly exploited, leaving fish stocks depleted and wreaking havoc on the underwater ecosystem.

They contend a more managed approach to underwater ecosystems will ultimately increase fishing opportunities by allowing depleted stocks to replenish and eventually expand beyond restricted zones.

"When you look at areas where commercial fishing has been banned or restricted for periods in the past - the northern Channel Islands is a good recent example - the scientific evidence shows that within a few years the fish populations return, the environments heal, the fish are actually bigger and healthier and the fishing industry turns out more of a profit, so it makes sense in the long-term to adopt these policies," said Charlotte Stevenson, a marine biologist with Heal the Bay.

Representatives of several South Bay cities with large commercial fishing industries, including Redondo Beach and Manhattan Beach, urged authorities to adopt Map 2, a less restrictive proposal that leaves fishing open for Rocky Point off the Palos Verdes Peninsula, one of the area's most popular fishing spots. The group built a Web site,, to support lesser restrictions.

"From our standpoint, Proposal 2 is a measured approach that protects our economy and jobs at a critical time but also supports clean oceans," said Redondo Beach Councilman Bill Brand, whose council voted unanimously to approve the less restrictive map.

The final map being considered, Map 1, is a mix of both maps 2 and 3, but it appeared to have little support during Wednesday's nearly nine-hour hearing.

A group of recreational anglers from Long Beach, who fish from sites that include the Belmont and Seal Beach piers, Rainbow Harbor and Pier J, believe Map 3 would best protect fish populations for generations to come.

"We're probably a minority among fishermen, but I think the more we get out and speak to fellow anglers and educate them about biodiversity and preserving fishing for their children and grandchildren, the more they come to support the (Map 3) submission," said Frankie Orrala, of Long Beach.

An economic study by a state-appointed committee showed commercial fishing profits could drop as much as 4.3 percent under Map 2 restrictions, and up to 8 percent if Map 3 zones were adopted, though the impacts would likely remain for only a few years until fishing populations returned and began "spilling out" from protected areas.

A similar Pew study conducted several years ago showed that when fishing restrictions were enacted off the coast of Santa Barbara, fishing profits actually grew within a few years of the underwater reserve being adopted, despite predictions that the industry would take a $100-million hit in the first year of the program.

A five-member panel is expected to make a recommendation on the new zones early today before forwarding the proposal for final consideration to the California Department of Fish and Game, whose board of commissioners will vote on changes sometime in mid- to late-2010.

The state has already divided the marine protection zones into three distinct areas representing North, Central and Southern California.

The North and Central zones, adopted by Fish and Game in August, protect key ecological sites like the Farallon Islands off San Francisco and the Northern Channel Islands while leaving more than 90 percent of coastal waters open for fishing.

To learn more about the proposals and view the maps, visit

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