Del Mar explores fishing, boating ban on lagoon

By Claire Harlin

After the Nov. 7 introduction of proposed fishing and boating restrictions, the City of Del Mar is looking into whether it would be constitutional under state and federal law to regulate use of the San Dieguito Lagoon at the local level.

“Our intent is to make sure there are not adverse impacts,” said Del Mar planning manager Adam Birnbaum. “We just went through this whole restoration project.”

Under the proposed ordinance, fishing and boating would be “prohibited in the lagoon and along the shoreline under most circumstances,” according to a city staff report.

City staff members are working with stakeholders and the city attorney, and will return to the council on Dec. 12 with modifications or language that ensures consistency with state and federal law, Birnbaum said.

The move to tighten restrictions at the local level follows a Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) designation recently applied to the lagoon by the California Department of Fish and Game. Under the MLPA, a State Marine Conservation Area (SMCA) applies to the lagoon, but according to a city staff report, that SMCA “does not contain a lot of detail about allowed and prohibited activities.”

Joe Exline, of the Oceanside Anglers Club, submitted a letter to the council questioning the ability of a local ordinance to regulate fishing and boating in navigable waters of the state. He said that the proposed ordinance would be in direct conflict with the public trust doctrine, which states certain resources are reserved for public use. The State Lands Commission considers the San Dieguito River and Lagoon to be navigable waters of the state, and the state legislature as not given the right to sites or counties to regulate fishing and boating unless there is a risk to public safety, he stated.

Kathryn Colson, staff council for the California State Lands Commission, also wrote to express concern over the proposed ordinance, stating that the San Dieguito River and Lagoon are part of the sovereign lands acquired by the state in 1850 and are meant for public use.

The lands are “held in trust for the people of California to be used to promote the public’s interest in water-oriented and water-dependent needs and uses, including navigation, commerce and fishing,” the letter stated.

She pointed out that the proposed ordinance would prohibit swimming, wading, diving, fishing, boating and public access.

“Commission staff believes that the proposed amendment is overly broad and would attempt to prohibit public use of the public trust lands in the San Dieguito Lagoon and River,” the letter stated. “As such, the proposed amendment is inconsistent with the California Constitution, the common law Public Trust Doctrine and the California Government Code.”

Jacqueline Winterer, a local environmentalist with Friends of the San Dieguito River Valley, expressed her support of the ordinance, but pointed out that strict enforcement should be implemented.

“A law is only as good as it is being enforced,” she said.

Public comment on the matter will remain open until Dec. 12.