By Kristopher Hanson, Contra Costa Times
State authorities approved new underwater marine habitats off Southern California's coast Wednesday, restricting fishing and diving in areas where stocks have been severely depleted in recent decades.
The move by the California Dept. of Fish and Game Commission comes after months of wrangling over details of the plan, which establishes new, protected marine habitats around the Channel Islands, Palos Verdes Peninsula and near the Bolsa Chica wetlands, among other areas.
Perhaps most controversial for local recreational anglers is the inclusion in the plan of fishing restrictions near Rocky Point - a popular spot off the Palos Verdes Peninsula. While some areas near Point Vicente will fall under protection, large swaths will remain open for fishing and lobster diving.
Scientists have long promoted the creation of underwater marine reserves as a way to protect wildlife and submerged environments - much like national and state parks do on land.
The development of the new zones - or marine protected areas - is the result of a 1999 law known as the Marine Life Protection Act, which established the need for protected wildlife preserves off California's 1,100 miles of coastline.
Biologists believe that by protecting critical breeding and feeding areas, fish and other sea creatures will eventually return to healthy population levels, creating a "spillover" effect that will ultimately benefit commercial and recreational anglers.
But drawing up the boundaries of those zones has been the subject of a long, heated debate involving marine biologists, commercial fishermen, recreational anglers and business owners for the past year.
In the end, the network of protected areas approved by the Fish and Game Commission during Wednesday's hearing in Los Angeles combined a mix of commercial and environmental priorities.
"It doesn't scratch everybody's itch...but we think it's the best possible approach to lead us into a sustainable future," said Cathy Reheis-Boyd, chairwoman of the Fish and Game task force that drew up the map.
The new rules begin phasing in around late 2010.