Friday, October 23, 2009

REGION: Task force postpones ocean decision

Panel sets sights on Encinitas kelp beds, La Jolla

By DAVE DOWNEY, North County Times
October 22, 2009

A state panel indicated Thursday it will consider establishing a marine protected area off Swami's Beach in Encinitas that could hurt North County's lobster and sea-urchin fishing industry, but members put off a decision until next month after a lengthy meeting in Long Beach.

"The one thing we don't want to do today is make decisions when we are not prepared to make them," said Cathy Reheis-Boyd, chairwoman of a five-member task force reviewing proposals for a system of essentially wilderness areas over water.

Reheis-Boyd, who is chief operating officer for the Western States Petroleum Association, said the task force needed time to evaluate the large amount of information members received during three days of meetings, including one Thursday that lasted seven hours.

As a result, the panel will meet Nov. 10 in Los Angeles to make a decision that could have a profound impact on the future of the near-shore environment, and commercial and recreational fishing, throughout Southern California. The system of marine protected areas would stretch from Santa Barbara to the U.S.-Mexico border.

Appointed by the state's natural resources secretary, the panel has been given the difficult task of sorting through three proposals for networks of marine protected areas developed over the past year by a group of 64 stakeholders. The group was composed of environmentalists, public officials, tribal leaders, fishermen, divers, kayakers and other ocean users.

Building on the group's work, the task force is expected to forward a recommendation to the California Fish and Game Commission by December.

Ultimately, the commission will decide the matter, by next summer or fall.

Marine protected areas already exist along the Southern California coast. They cover 7.7 percent of waters the state has jurisdiction over ---- from the shore to 3 miles out.

But a landmark 1999 state law ---- the Marine Life Protection Act ---- mandated that the Fish and Game Commission redraw boundaries and expand the system, so it provides a greater level of protection for declining fish populations and fragile ocean ecosystems.

There are generally two types of protected areas: marine reserves, which ban all fishing and extractive activities such as kelp harvesting, and marine conservation areas that allow some activities but place limits on them.

Under the three proposals drawn up by the stakeholder group, the scope of protected areas would increase to the point that they would cover 16 percent to 18 percent of Southern California's offshore waters.

One proposal was developed by a group committee dominated by fishermen. A second was crafted by a committee composed mostly of conservationists. The third, a middle-ground proposal, was generated by a mixed panel.

The task force is considering mixing pieces of those proposals in developing its own preferred alternative.

And, for San Diego County, the task force is weighing three options.

The first one builds largely on the conservation proposal. It would create marine protected areas of about 10 square miles each off Swami's Beach and south La Jolla, and provide a layer of protection for the Tijuana River estuary in the South Bay.

The second idea is to take the plan advanced by fishing interests, which would create a no-fishing reserve off the coast of Del Mar but leave Swami's alone. That plan would set up another protected area off Sunset Cliffs just south of Mission Bay.

The task force's third option would borrow from the first two, combining Swami's with Sunset Cliffs.

Josh Fisher, a commercial lobster fisherman, warned that putting the Swami's kelp beds off limits would hammer local lobster and urchin fishermen.

"That Encinitas SMCA (state marine conservation area) will cripple the Oceanside fleet," Fisher said.

According to an economic analysis prepared for the state, Oceanside Harbor would be hit disproportionately compared to other Southern California ports. The analysis estimated that the profits of Oceanside commercial fisherman would be slashed by close to 30 percent.

A Swami's designation also could prevent recreational fishermen from casting their lines in the surf from a local campground.

Swami's aside, the task force faces a politically difficult decision balancing interests of conservationists, who say La Jolla is the richest and most important off-shore habitat in the region, and of anglers, many of whom consider La Jolla to be the county's best fishing hole.

To view the stakeholder group's proposals, visit

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