Task force delays coastal habitat decision

BY DAVE SCHWAB

and KAREN BILLING

Staff Writers

Saying they didn't have enough information to pick one of three proposals for marine protected areas along the Southern California coast, a state panel will gather more data before making a decision on Nov. 10.

After a year of public inquiry and three days of testimony, the five-member Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Blue Ribbon Task Force on Oct. 22 requested further scientific analysis of habitat maps for coastal areas including Del Mar, Solana Beach, La Jolla and other areas in San Diego County.

The panel, an advisory group appointed by the governor, met in Long Beach and had been expected to choose a preferred alternative from three offered that would set establish protected areas along Southern California's coastline from Santa Barbara to Mexico. All three choices, to varying degrees, would create marine protected areas, making them off-limits to fishing.

Their recommendation ultimately will go to the state Fish and Game Commission.

Donald Mosier, Del Mar City Council member, spent a day in Long Beach representing Del Mar's preference for the third option, which moved protected areas north to Swami's.

After two and a half days, he thought they'd come to an agreement, combining proposals one and three and leaving Del Mar out of the protected area.

"I thought we were home free but that was a bit premature," Mosier told city council on Monday night.

He said it's looking good for Del Mar, that they might be excluded from the marine preserve but they won't know for sure until Nov. 10.

"It seems Del Mar has a very limited value as a preserved habitat," Mosier said.

Mosier said he thinks Del Mar will be left out but there was an argument from Oceanside lobster fisherman against moving the MPA to Swami's as they often fish there and rarely motor to Del Mar.

Jeff Petit, a local fisherman and retired Navy reserve commander who lives in Del Mar Terrace, said no matter what plan is chosen, it will affect everyone's way of life.

Petit, who grew up fishing in Rhode Island and even toyed with becoming an oceanographer before joining the Navy, fishes offshore on his sport fishing boat but also fishes on the shorelines of La Jolla and Del Mar.

"I disagree with the whole MLPA effort," Petit said. "My view of it is this is not the right approach to conservation, environmental protection and fisheries management."

Petit said it's overkill to close off all public use — saying it's almost mean-spirited that something as simple as standing on the beach and casting into the surf would be illegal.

"It's really turned into a battle between recreational and commercial fisherman who want access to the waters and the people who don't," Petit said, noting that the task force seems to have run into a "buzz saw" in Southern California. "There aren't really easy answers or simple solutions to any of this."

Thousands of people showed up to the Long Beach hearings last week, Mosier said.

Chairwoman Catherine Reheis-Boyd noted the difficulty of her blue-ribbon group's task at last week's MLPA hearing.

"We've got three really good proposals," she said. "We know what the law is: But we also understand the human side of this: You've got people's livelihoods at stake."

"What we have here is a very substantial economic effect on a lot of people," agreed task force member Gregory Schem. "Balance is what we're really seeking to achieve here."

Task force member Meg Caldwell noted it is incumbent for the group to "move forward with marine protected areas that can be managed and enforced."

The Marine Life Protection Act was signed into law in 1999 to establish a series of underwater parks along the California coastline for the protection of sea life. For more than a year, environmentalists, fishermen and other ocean users have debated how to enact the MLPA in Southern California from Point Conception to the U.S.-Mexico border including La Jolla and its high-profile kelp beds.

A major point of contention among stakeholders centers on the question of just how badly depleted California fish species really are.

Environmentalists insist many fish stocks are dangerously low and want as much San Diego coastline protected as possible to replenish populations. Commercial and recreational fishermen dispute that interpretation, arguing the status quo on fish species populations isn't nearly that bad, and that there are other equally important considerations; namely the economic livelihoods of commercial fishermen and the public's right to ocean access.

   
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