Monday, November 9, 2009

Close Laguna coast to fishing? Big decision expected Tuesday

By Pat Brennan, Orange County Register
November 9, 2009

A major decision on new protections for ocean life that could include banning fishing off Laguna Beach is expected Tuesday in Los Angeles.

A blue-ribbon task force that is part of the state-sponsored Marine Life Protection Act Initiative will resume its discussion of possible new protected areas off Southern California.

After hearing more public comments – there have been more than 10,000 written comments and six hours of verbal comments since a stakeholder group produced its final three proposals last month – the panel is expected to choose, or create, a “preferred alternative” that it will recommend for final approval to the state Fish and Game Commission.

The effort to create new marine protected areas off Southern California has ignited controversy, especially among fishing interests. In Orange County, sportfishing enthusiasts and operators of recreational fishing boats have expressed strong opposition to some of the leading proposals.

Joining with local commercial lobster fishermen, they say such restrictions could harm the local economy — not just the operators of fishing party boats, but the restaurants, gas stations, shops and other businesses that rely on the sportfishing industry.
Proponents, including environmental and conservation groups, say the new marine protected areas are needed to ensure the survival of fish and other marine life, and to preserve marine habitat.

Last month, the stakeholders produced three complex maps outlining areas off the Southern California coast, from Santa Barbara to the Mexican border, that would receive a range of protections, from some limits on fishing to outright bans.

All three — one produced by a group dominated by environmental groups, one by fishing interests and one by mixed interests — identified a large area off the Laguna coast as closed to fishing.

Once the Fish and Game Commission receives a final recommendation, it could take months, or even as long as a year, to give final approval.

The blue-ribbon panel had been expected to make a decision Oct. 22 in Long Beach, but postponed it to Nov. 10. The meeting begins at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday at the Sheraton Gateway Hotel in Los Angeles.

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