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MLPA process coming to a head in Southern California; anglers hope for the best

October 16, 2009 | 12:07 pm

An angler casts into the Pacific off Orange County.

Anglers on Sunday will stage a "Yes on 2!" rally at Dana Wharf Sportfishing in support of one of three proposals being considered by the Blue Ribbon Task Force as part of the Marine Life Protection Act Initiative. The BRTF will select its preferred alternative -- either of the three plans or an integrated version -- during a meeting next week at the Hilton Hotel in Long Beach.

(Public comments will be accepted from 1:30-4:30 p.m. and from 7-10 p.m. Wednesday, and the BRTF will choose its alternative Thursday.)

Whichever proposal is selected and ultimately approved by the California Fish and Game Commission, it will establish a network of state marine reserves along the Southern California coast and at the Channel Islands to help conserve fisheries and habitat. SMRs will be off limits to fishing and other types of consumptive activities.

The Marine Life Protection Act, passed by the California Legislature in 1999, requires the state to reevaluate and redesign California's system of marine protected areas, or reserves. The process is already complete in the North-Central and Central Coast regions.

In the South Coast region, from Point Conception to the U.S.-Mexico border, proposal No. 2 is favored by anglers because it's not as extreme when it comes to SMRs.

"We're not out here saying 'no' to conservation -- we're saying yes to a plan that achieves the MLPA's mandated conservation goals while minimizing the economic and social impact on Southern Californians," said Steven Fakuto, president of the United Anglers of Southern California, which was involved in the process as a stakeholder. "Workgroup 2's plan is still going to hurt, but we can live with the fact that it offers the best level of conservation while striving not to severely restrict recreational fishing."

A spokeswoman for Heal the Bay, which favors proposal No. 3, said proposal No. 2 fails to meet certain science guidelines established by a special panel. Heal the Bay also states on its website that Map 1 "may not be as effective as Map 3 at protecting Southern California's coastal resources." Fakuto counters that no proposal entirely meets all of the complex mandated guidelines.

Below are maps 1-3. The red areas are state marine reserves. The blue areas are state marine conservation areas, where some types of fishing will be allowed.

All three proposals, or maps, will close fishing to some degree off the Palos Verdes Peninsula, Laguna Beach and La Jolla. Interestingly, while this is supposed to be a science-based endeavor, the Del Mar City Council is backing Map 3 because Maps 1-2 have set aside a large parcel off Del Mar as a reserve, while Map 3 shows stronger protection off La Jolla and a large conservation area in the Solana Beach-Cardiff area.

"We like proposal 3 because it doesn't put our entire community in a protected area where we're not sure what we can do," Mayor Crystal Crawford told the Del Mar Times.

The angling community has expressed alarm over the amount of protection being proposed for Santa Catalina Island in Map 3. Three of its four reserves are on the front side of the island and an expansive reserve extends from the backside to Farnsworth Bank. These are all popular fishing areas.

Numerous sportfishing landings would be adversely affected. Redondo Sportfishing, which is going to be hurt by the Palos Verdes Peninsula closure, would also see the west end of Catalina -- within range of its day boat -- become off limits. Maps 1 and 2 are less restrictive when it comes to Catalina.

Keep in mind that this report is simply stated for the sake of brevity. The maps speak for themselves in terms of reserve locations, but specifics for the reasoning behind each of these proposals are complex. If fishermen charge environmental groups of aspiring toward an extreme agenda, environmental groups might regard fishermen as being short-sighted in an era when fisheries are embattled -- for many reasons, including pollution, climate change and habitat loss -- and in need of help.

It is hoped the reserves will allow Southern California fisheries to substantially recover and perhaps create a spillover effect into non-protected areas. Also to be considered is that sportfishing is a long-treasured pastime and contributes millions of dollars to the economy. It's a delicate situation. Hopefully, the Blue Ribbon Task Force and the Fish and Game Commission will choose a plan that strikes an appropriate balance. It won't be easy.

-- Pete Thomas



Top photo: An angler casts into the Pacific off Orange County. Credit: Christina House / For The Times