By Kristopher Hanson, Long Beach Press-Telegram
A state panel will reconvene Nov. 10 in Los Angeles to consider a controversial plan expanding no-fishing zones off the Southern California coast.
During hearings Oct. 20-22 in Long Beach, a blue-ribbon panel declined to pick among three proposed fishing restricted zones following hours of heated debate between anglers, biologists and environmentalists. Instead, the panel voted to continue deliberations through early November before forwarding their recommendation to the California Fish and Game Commission, which votes on a final plan in December.
The most aggressive proposal, which supporters contend would ultimately revitalize declining fish and marine life populations off Southern California's coast, expands restrictions on popular commercial and recreational angling spots off the Palos Verdes Peninsula and around the Channel Islands.
Opponents, who include much of the commercial and recreational angling community in Long Beach, San Pedro and the South Bay, favor a less restrictive proposal that would allow many of the fishing zones to remain largely intact.
The Marine Life Protection Act of 1999 is designed to protect for future generations marine life within three miles of California's roughly 1,000 miles of coastline. The act divided the state into five regions, with a blue-ribbon panel designated for each area and consisting of environmentalists, commercial fishermen, biologists and others whose recommendations are forwarded to the five-member Fish and Game commission, which carries ultimate authority on the various plans.
In recent months, the commission has accepted, without change, proposals forwarded by similar panels in Northern and Central California.
The panel responsible for adopting local MLPA zones meets at 9:30 a.m. Nov. 10 at the Sheraton Gateway Hotel, 6101 W. Century Blvd. in Los Angeles for further deliberations and possible changes to the three proposals debated during the Long Beach hearings. The public is welcome to attend or watch a live feed of the hearing www.dfg.ca.gov/mlpa/meetings_sc.asp.
They have also posted maps online of the three proposals - and possible alterations to the proposals - at www.dfg.ca.gov/mlpa and at www.marinemap.org/marinemap.
Proponents of the strictest proposal, known as Map 3, which expands restricted areas surrounding the Channel Islands and Palos Verdes Peninsula, contend recent scientific study of the area shows it 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 environment heals, the fish actually return 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.
Opponents, however, contend further restrictions could decimate an ailing local fishing industry, which they contend already suffers from the effects of existing environmental restrictions.
They prefer a less restrictive approach as outlined in Map 2 on the MLPA Web site, which they say supports the ecosystem without destroying opportunities for fishermen and recreational anglers.
Representatives of several South Bay cities with large commercial fishing industries, including Redondo Beach and Manhattan Beach, have urged adoption of Map 2, which largely leaves fishing areas near the Peninsula's popular Rocky Point open. The group created a Web site, www.keeprockypointopen.com, to support their plan.
The blue-ribbon panel is accepting written comments through Nov. 4. Interested parties are encouraged to contact panel members, whose names and contact information are available at www.dfg.ca.gov/mlpa/scproject.asp#members.