Friday, October 23, 2009

MLPA Update: Task Force Postpones Decision

Verna Rollinger speaks at a packed hearing over expanding marine protections, in favor of Laguna Beach City Council's request to designate the entire coast a marine reserve. Staff photo: Ted Reckas.

Pro-fishing protesters outside the conference center in Long Beach where a state panel convened to deliberate on marine protected areas. Staff photo: Ted Reckas.

Vern Goehring, Manager of California Fisheries Coalition, which represents fishing interests, is interviewed outside the conference center in downtown Long Beach where a meeting was held to deliberate on marine protected areas.

A panel charged with recommending new regulations for marine protected areas in Southern California put off making a decision late Thursday, following seven hours of deliberation over three full-day hearings in Long Beach.

“There’s nothing I’d like more than to get on that plane and not have to think about this,” said Blue Ribbon Task Force chair Cathy Reheis-Boyd, but she conceded that more time was needed for evaluation. Another public meeting over the matter was set for Nov. 10. The yet to be determined location will be somewhere in LA.

The task force was scheduled to take a final vote on three different proposals for marine regulations between Point Conception and Mexico under the 10-year-old state Marine Life Protection Act. The plans emerged over a two-year review involving a spectrum of ocean users. Commercial fishermen, recreational users and conservationists contributed testimony on the merits of the various proposals.

Major disagreements, however, over enlarging protections along the coastline, including imposing a fishing ban in the fish- and kelp-loving rocky coves of Laguna Beach, were so persistent that the task force deemed it necessary to take more time for evaluation.

“The problems of (a city-wide marine reserve in Laguna) are many, many, many fold…This is so detrimental to recreational fishing emanating out of both (Newport and Dana Point) harbors, not to mention the commercial lobster, squid and other fishing,” said Irvine resident Norris Tapp, whose fishing boat Freelance is based in Newport Harbor.

Laguna’s marine protection officer Calla Allison argued in favor of the reserve, saying that it achieved most of the requirements of the guidelines set forth by the state Fish and Game Department’s science advisory team, and still left a large portion of ocean open for fishing.

During the public comment section of Wednesday’s meeting, City Council members Verna Rollinger and Toni Iseman, former mayor Ann Christoph, and lifeguard chief Kevin Snow echoed Allison’s position, speaking before an audience estimated at 700 people by Long Beach police.
Laguna Beach’s City Council urged such a designation in June in a 4-1 vote, surfacing a deep divide in a town with a long history of lobster-harvesting and spear-fishing.

Mayor Kelly Boyd, the only dissenting council member and a long time fisherman, hoped to ask the council to take a more moderate position at this past Tuesday’s council meeting, but the agenda item was removed at the last minute. No explanation was given. Boyd had hoped to gain support for the fishermen-backed proposal, which would have expanded the marine reserve at Heisler Park to some neighboring coves but not to the entire Laguna coast.

The Blue Ribbon Task Force, comprised of six experts in environmental policy, resource management, coastal development, land use and public administration, is expected to all but finalize the scope of new regulations. Final approval comes from the state Department of Fish and Game commission, which is expected to ratify a final plan by Dec. 20.

Don Benninghoven, former task force member and recently appointed Fish and Game Commissioner, said, “The weight of having the task force make a recommendation – because the commission is aware of what they go through to get here – the commission will take that into very serious consideration."

For a proposal to be rejected at the last stage is unlikely, he said. Within the three final round proposals on the table he saw measures that would satisfy the requirements of the Marine Life Protection Act, made law in 1999 to step up protections in the wake of the collapse of the abalone fishery. “Oh sure. The basics are there in the three,” he said.

“We know how passionate you feel about this. We’ve heard that passion, we’ve felt that passion and we absolutely believe in it and embrace it,” said task force chair Cathy Reheis-Boyd, as people spilling into the aisles were ushered out of the over-capacity room.

All three current proposals afford the entire coast of Laguna with some level of legal protection and each would significantly expand the existing marine reserve at Heisler Park, though in different ways.

Proposal one, which was focused on compromise, would establish Laguna’s coast as a marine reserve – or no take zone – from Reef Point at Crystal Cove, south to Aliso Creek, and seaward in a triangle ending at a point about three miles off shore. This protects a relatively large amount of coastline, where tide pools lie, and less off shore habitat. The rest of Laguna’s coast would be a conservation area, allowing a moderate degree of fishing, extending 3/4 mile off shore.
Proposal two, written by mainly fishing interests, expands the Heisler marine reserve north to Crescent Bay, south to Cress Street and seaward in a rectangle extending roughly five and a half miles due south, leaving more coastline and near shore habitat open to consumptive use. Areas outside the reserve would be conservation areas, with a more liberal allowance for fishing than proposal one.

Proposal three, made up mostly of conservation interests, designates the whole coast of Laguna Beach as a marine reserve, extending seaward in a triangle similar to proposal one, but larger.

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