Friday, October 23, 2009

Group fails to find preferred fishing closure alternative

By Ed Zieralski, San Diego Union-Tribune
October 23, 2009

Final word won't come until next month, but San Diego County recreational and commercial fishermen may have avoided huge hits yesterday when the Marine Life Protection Act's Blue Ribbon Task Force wrapped up its three-day meeting here at the Hilton Hotel.

The task force failed to arrive at what is being called a preferred alternative of ocean-fishing closures to pass on to the state Fish & Game Commission for its Dec. 9-10 meeting. But before adjourning, the task force looked at a less severe network of fishing closures along the county's coastline than had been proposed by preservationists.

After much negotiation and discussion, the statewide task force settled on three local options for protected areas as part of the 1999 Marine Life Protection Act passed by the state Legislature. The task force will meet Nov. 10 to pick the preferred alternative that it will send to the commission along with three proposals submitted by the South Coast Regional Stakeholders and a zero, or no-action option. The commission will pick from the five proposals.

The options the task force will look at for San Diego will involve using combinations of Swami's off Encinitas, Del Mar, La Jolla, Point Loma and the Tijuana Estuary as key pieces. One of the options chosen from the stakeholders' group Proposal 2, or the “Fisherman's Proposal,” leaves La Jolla alone.

Local fishermen are not out of harm's way. Areas of the South Coast will take significant hits in terms of access and open fishing, and San Diego could still be a target.

“The economic hit the commercial passenger fishing fleet will take is huge off Point Dume, Catalina Island, Laguna and even in San Diego if the wrong sets of options are approved,” said Bob Fletcher, former president of the Sportfishing Association of California and a member of the stakeholder group. “In San Diego, we'll be devastated if they combine La Jolla and Encinitas.”

Buck Everingham of Everingham Bros. Bait Co. likely dodged critical closures off Tijuana and north La Jolla that would have severely impacted his ability to provide bait for the sportfishing fleet. Part of the compromise yesterday was that he'll be able to make bait off Imperial Beach and the Tijuana Estuary even if the area is given protection.
“I made 23 percent of my bait off Imperial Beach in 2007,” Everingham said.

Catherine Reheis-Boyd, chairwoman of the task force, regretted that the group didn't reach a preferred alternative but said she didn't want to rush into it. She said she didn't want to have to think about the South Coast process on the way home. That got a response from Tommy Gomes of Catalina Offshore Products and a member of the stakeholder group.

“She's going to have to think about this on the way home,” Gomes said, “but we fishermen will be thinking about this the rest of our lives every time we get on our boats.”

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