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Commission Ready to Delve Into Decision on Proposed Marine Protected Areas

The California Fish and Game Commission will meet in Santa Barbara on Wednesday to discuss and vote on a plan of action

The future of Southern California’s fishing opportunities could be decided this week, with the California Fish and Game Commission set to meet in Santa Barbara on Wednesday to discuss and vote on the proposed network of Marine Protected Areas dotting the coast.

Proposed regulations would create protected areas throughout the South Coast region, which stretches from Santa Barbara County’s Point Conception to the California-Mexico border.

The Fish and Game Commission created a 64-member stakeholder group that then was split into three subgroups based on differing goals.

From the three alternatives drawn up by the subgroups, a blue ribbon commission created the Integrated Preferred Alternative that will be the focus of this week’s meetings.

“I think everyone feels some pain. … I don’t think anyone is happy, but that’s sort of what you would expect,” said Jonna Engel, a staff ecologist for the California Coastal Commission and a member of the “middle ground” subgroup. “We had two groups that had really polar opposite visions and desires, so many of the fishermen would really rather not have any marine reserves, and the environmentalists would want huge reserves.”

She said the alternative her subgroup put forward, in an attempt to balance everyone’s interests, is most like the Integrated Preferred Alternative.

The effort is part of the Marine Life Protection Act of 1999, with different areas along the coast — and extending a few miles into the ocean — receiving varying levels of protection. If the proposed map is adopted by the Fish and Game Commission this week, it would be implemented in 2011.

Each California coastal region is adopting and implementing its own regulations so each ecosystem can be considered separately.

There are 35 proposed Marine Protected Areas for the South Coast, which include state marine reserves, state marine conservation areas and state marine parks. With each classification comes a different level of regulation. Some areas will be “no take” areas, while others will allow fishing and diving for certain species.

In Santa Barbara County, there are four proposed state marine parks — Point Conception, Kashtayit, Campus Point and Goleta Slough — one state marine conservation area — Naples. They all prohibit taking living marine resources with few or no exceptions.

Marine reserves benefit from stationary organisms such as sea urchins much more than pelagic creatures that use the current system, such as tuna, anchovies and squid — a fact that factors into the decisions of which species can be harvested where.

Engel said Santa Barbara County fishing already has been hit with the creation of the Channel Islands marine reserves, so the proposed additions would have more of an impact farther south.

“I don’t want to put fishermen out of business in California and have us import fish from Indonesia and China where there are no rules,” she said, adding that while the plan is “definitely” a step in the right direction for managing fisheries, it should be treated as such, and not an answer to everything.

The stakeholder group met from October 2008 to September 2009, and accepted input from a master plan science advisory team. There were representatives from commercial and recreational fishing, diving, kayaking, government and environmental organizations.

Working toward the guidelines set out for them, the environmentalist subgroup considered how to maximize the ecological benefit, and the fishing interests tried to minimize the socio-economic impact of the plan, according to Jenn Feinberg, an ocean policy consultant for the Natural Resources Defense Council.

“I will say that, from a conservation perspective, I would have liked to see stronger protections than what was proposed in the IPA, but I recognize and appreciate the compromises,” she said.

What the plan doesn’t do is address any factors other than fishing.

“There are a lot of other sources of impact that aren’t addressed by the marine protection areas,” Engel said, listing off pollution, water quality, boating and coastal development as a few examples. The Channel Islands already have implemented similar regulations.

Recreational diver Eric Kett, who is also chairman of the Channel Islands Sanctuary Advisory Council, said he is bothered by the plan’s focus on fishing. He has been diving at the islands for a quarter-century and said he knows them as well or better than the streets on shore.

He believes more funding and monitoring need to be available to research the impact of the protections. He said the small Naples site, for example, should remain open for its decades of data, which could be used to monitor the supposed spillover effect, increased marine life and increased fishing opportunities from nearby reserves.

Anyone who wants to make a public comment on the proposed changes can attend the Fish and Game Commission meeting beginning at 9 a.m. Wednesday at the Hotel Mar Monte at 1111 E. Cabrillo Blvd. in Santa Barbara.

Noozhawk staff writer Giana Magnoli can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk or @NoozhawkNews.

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