Fish and Game Commission OKs plan to limit Central Coast fishing

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Posted by on August 15, 2006 at 23:51:14:

In Reply to: California Establishes Network of Marine Reserves posted by on August 15, 2006 at 23:47:31:


Fishing will be banned or sharply limited in 18 percent of California's ocean waters from Half Moon Bay to Santa Barbara, under a landmark plan establishing marine reserves approved Tuesday night by the California Fish and Game Commission.

Meeting in Monterey in front of a crowd of more than 500 people, the commission voted 5-0 to create the first broad network of marine protected areas in the nation.

The 29 zones, which are expected to take effect early next year, would ban fishing over roughly 94 square miles and limit it in 110 additional square miles -- a combined area more than four times as large as San Francisco.

``Today is a historic day in California. We need to take great pride in this,'' commissioner Cindy Gustafson said.

Dozens of fishermen, scientists, environmentalists and politicians debated the issue for more than seven hours. The goal: to restore fish, sea otters and other wildlife off California's central coast in state waters out to three miles offshore, while not bankrupting the fishing industry.

The plan ranks as one of the most significant ocean protection measures in the state since Congress established the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary in 1992, which banned offshore oil drilling from San Francisco to Hearst Castle in San Simeon.

The five-member commission considered four options, each with complex maps and rules, drawn up over the past two years amid public meetings and scientific studies.

The option supported by fishermen would have put 5 percent of Central Coast waters off limits to commercial and recreational fishing. The environmentalists' plan went furthest, setting 13 percent off limits. In the middle, a plan drawn up by a ``blue-ribbon task force'' appointed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger would have placed 10 percent off limits. And the state Department of Fish and Game staff recommended putting 8 percent off limits. New fishing limits were put in place in an additional 6 to 10 percent under each plan.

The final plan was a compromise between the ``blue ribbon'' option and the fish and game staff version.

Environmentalists argued that far-reaching reserves were needed to restore species from rockfish to squid to halibut, as well as animals that eat them, such as elephant seals.

``This is about protecting the most precious places we have underwater, just as we did decades ago on land,'' said Karen Garrison of the Natural Resources Defense Council in San Francisco. ``What we have underwater is as precious as what we have in Yosemite. But we are playing catch-up.''

Fishermen said increased state and federal regulations already have harmed them economically; that after years of declining numbers, many fish species are returning because of those rules; and that adding too many reserves would cripple their industry.

``All areas of the ocean are protected. How many layers of burden are we going to place on working men and women and local businesses in this process?'' said Vern Goehring, manager of the California Fisheries Coalition, a group of 23 recreational and commercial fishing organizations.

Scuba divers told stories of seeing fewer and smaller fish in Monterey Bay compared with decades ago.

``On most dives I can count on one hand how many rockfish I see,'' said Ray Apodaca of San Francisco, a recreational scuba diver. He noted that fish are larger and more numerous in Point Lobos Marine Reserve, a no-fishing area established in 1973 near Carmel, than in other parts of the ocean. ``There is still time to restore this resource,'' Apodaca said.

Howard Egan, a recreational fisherman from Capitola, said that while 5 to 13 percent of the waters in the area would be off-limits entirely, many of those places, including rocky points, are the best fishing zones, so up to 60 percent of the most fishable habitat would be affected.

As late as 7 p.m., the commissioners were still debating details: how much of the waters around Point Aņo Nuevo should remain open to fishing, what rules should govern recreational fishing off the Monterey Breakwater, and how to balance the economic needs of squid and prawn fishermen with the environmental goal of boosting ocean health.

An economic study by a University of California-Davis researcher found that on average each of the four options would cost the region's commercial fishermen about $1 million per year.

Studies from around the world over the past five years have shown that fish grow larger and more numerous in marine reserves. One study published in the journal Science in 2001, for example, found that within five years of the creation of a network of five small reserves to protect coral reef fish in the Caribbean around St. Lucia, catches in adjacent waters increased between 46 and 90 percent.

Similarly, an area off Cape Canaveral, Florida, was closed to fishing in the 1960s for security reasons. Today fishing crews catch world-record sized black drum and other species near there.

Some fishing industry representatives and researchers say the evidence is still incomplete, and that not enough monitoring has been done on existing reserves to justify creating new ones, particularly since many fish migrate long distances and can swim out of the protected zones.

Nevertheless, scientists from Stanford University, the Monterey Bay Aquarium, the University of California and other top institutions advocated making California a national showcase for reserves. Other fisheries management tools have failed to restore ocean life to healthy levels, they note.

The process of creating marine reserves began in 1999 when former Gov. Gray Davis signed a law written by then-Assemblymen Fred Keeley, D-Santa Cruz, and Kevin Shelley, D-San Francisco, known as the ``Marine Life Protection Act.'

Although California has four national marine sanctuaries, those ban oil drilling but don't limit fishing.

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