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California Commission Approves Tighter Marine Protections for Coastline

Santa Barbara hearing draws hundreds of people, many of whom showed up to have their say on fishing regulations

Hundreds of people packed into a large conference room at Santa Barbara’s Hotel Mar Monte on Wednesday to hear the California Fish and Game Commission weigh in on tighter fishing bans.

The commission heard more than five hours of public comment, with more than 120 speakers turning in slips to talk. The day ended with 19 decisions for the area along the Southern California coast, from Point Conception to the California-Mexico border, although only two of the decisions affect Santa Barbara County’s coastline.

The Campus Point area was under consideration because of pre-existing oil and gas pipelines that could have prevented the area from being designated as a state marine reserve. The commission voted to add an allowance for pre-existing activities there, and change the designation to a state marine conservation area.

The commission also voted to keep regulations in place to protect the Refugio, a state marine conservation area. If they had been removed, the area would have had the potential for increased commercial fishing. According to Fish and Game staff, the area is filled with shallow reefs and has a high biological diversity. Prehistoric Chumash bowls also have been found within the location, which is a sensitive archaeological site.

Representatives from communities as far away as San Diego showed up to speak at the meeting, including a sizable group from Laguna Beach, and each region received different levels of protection. Crafting the plan placed in front of commissioners involved a long process, and a blue-ribbon commission created what most considered a compromise, termed the Integrated Preferred Alternative, or IPA.

Among the host of public speakers, two camps generally emerged. Those concerned with the environmental impacts of overfishing stressed the creation of the off-limits areas in an effort to give fish a safe haven. They said spillover would occur as fish became more populous, and fishermen would benefit. Commercial and sport fishermen argued that their methods were sustainable and were already under enough strain because of the tough economy.

Hundreds of people packed the Hotel Mar Monte conference room to hear the California Fish and Game Commission weigh in on Marine Protection Areas.
Hundreds of people packed the Hotel Mar Monte conference room to hear the California Fish and Game Commission weigh in on Marine Protection Areas. (Lara Cooper / Noozhawk photo)

Russell Galipeau, who works with the Channel Islands National Park, also touted the benefits.

“When we talk to dive boat operators, they make it a point to stop at the reserves,” he said. “They can see what the benefits are of setting places aside.”

A host of environmental groups also encouraged the commission to add more protections.

“Now is your moment to give a gift to the future,” said Dean Plaister of the Surfrider Foundation. “Generations to come will applaud your foresight if you act to implement a strong MPA system.”

But some in the commercial fishing industry, directly or indirectly, said they feared the regulations would affect business. Alex Masimoto, who owns the Rusty Hook Fishing Tackle store in San Pedro, expressed his qualms.

“The IPA will be too hard on our businesses,” he said, on top of a cold water season, which has driven fish away, and the sputtering economy.

The changes approved Wednesday are expected to be implemented in 2011.

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

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