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At emotional hearing, panel approves landmark curbs on Southern California fishing

November 10, 2009 |  5:59 pm

In a move greeted with scattered applause and boos, a state blue-ribbon panel late today voted unanimously to approve landmark fishing restrictions for the Southern California coastline, creating a patchwork of havens for marine life needed to replenish the surrounding seas while leaving some waters open for fishing.

The five-member panel, which convened at the Sheraton Gateway Hotel in Los Angeles, voted to recommend to the state Fish and Game Commission a compromise intended to sustain the 250-mile coastline's economic and environmental health. The commission is expected to take up the plan in December. It has usually approved plans recommended by the panel.

In an interview, panel Chairwoman Catherine Reheis-Boyd said, “We’re not going to make everyone happy, but this has to be done.”

“It’s agony to weigh the environmental goals against peoples’ livelihoods,” she said. “We have to consider the socioeconomic impacts, especially here in Southern California, where the urban-ocean interface is greater than anywhere else in the nation."

The plan was forged during a year of contentious negotiations between conservationists and fishing interests over slivers of beach, access to kelp beds and submarine canyons, and the locations of parking lots and restrooms that could affect water quality, larval production and marine life between Santa Barbara and the Mexican border.

Of particular concern to fishing interests were maps delineating the extent of coastal hook-and-line fishing and deep-sea trawler access that would be sacrificed in the interest of stemming the decline of fish stocks that are the cornerstone of recreational and commercial fishing — for lobster, urchin, squid, sea bass, sheepshead, yellowtail and swordfish — and tourism.

Conservationists grumbled that the economic effects on the fishing industry outweighed scientific guidelines to ensure the long-term health of Southern California's ocean in the minds of some panelists. Commercial fishermen clad in black T-shirts predicted job losses and business closures.

Elected officials tried to intervene on behalf of their constituents. Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa dispatched a letter to the panel urging that they approve tough restrictions. A week ago, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors passed a resolution urging the panel to protect kelp and canyon habitats on both sides of Point Dume but leaving the waters off Palos Verdes Peninsula open to fishing. State Assemblyman Ted Lieu (D-Torrance) supported that plan.

George L. Osborn, a lobbyist for the California Fish and Game Wardens Assn., told the panel late this afternoon, "We do not have the resources to enforce regulations currently on the books. This is a matter that jeopardizes officer safety."

At today's meeting, a group led by Laguna City Councilwoman Verna Rollinger supported a proposal to ban fishing along seven miles of coastal waters. "I want fish in the ocean, and on my dinner plate," Rollinger said. "To do that, we have to restore the ocean."

Tempers flared. The panel was discussing proposed fishing closures when kayak fishing enthusiast Charles Volkens, 44, stood up and angrily shouted at the panelists: "You have not listened to us throughout this whole process!"

-- Louis Sahagun