Proposals for MLPA include Del Mar

A new marine reserve is proposed off the coast of Del Mar as part of a statewide effort to improve marine ecosystem conservation known as the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative.

The proposed reserve would prohibit commercial and recreational fishing from the San Dieguito river mouth to the Penasquitos river mouth, from the beach to the state water line about 3.5 miles out to sea - a total of about 10.8 square miles.

Del Mar was targeted for its rocky habitat in very deep water, which provides shelter for the rockhut fish, and because it is not as popular a fishing spot for commercial fishermen.

“We’re trying to get a balance between protecting habitat and at the same time minimizing the economic impact on the fishermen,” said Dave Rudie, owner of Catalina Offshore Products and a member of the MLPA stakeholder group that is developing the proposals for marine protected areas in Southern California.

The stakeholder group has 64 members representing conservationists, commercial fishing, recreational angling and diving, ports, harbors, the government and various business entities.

They have been meeting since last October to develop a comprehensive network of marine parks, reserves and conservation areas to protect sensitive habitats from overfishing, as required by the Marine Life Protection Act.

The law, passed in 1999, calls for the overhaul of the state’s existing system of marine protected areas because only 14 of the 220,000 square miles of the state and federal waters off the state’s coast were actually no-take zones at that time.

The stakeholder group has developed four proposals with different locations for protected areas from Point Conception in Santa Barbara County down to the U.S.-Mexico border; all but one includes Del Mar as a reserve.

“If they want to protect biodiversity and naturally abundant marine ecosystems, they’re picking one of the worst spots for that,” said Mark Rathsam, the Del Mar lifeguard deputy chief.

The habitat off Del Mar is dominated by sand, and lacks the shallow rocky reefs and thriving kelp forests that attract a greater number and diversity of fish and marine life, Rathsam said.

“We don’t have big populations of fish in Del Mar, we don’t have the structure for that,” he said.

Kate Hanley, director of marine conservation for San Diego Coastkeeper, agrees. That’s why she, as a member of the MLPA stakeholder group, recommended not putting a reserve at Del Mar, but rather targeting the rocky reefs and kelp forests off Encinitas and La Jolla.

“We’re trying to create underwater parks, similar to Yosemite or Yellowstone,” Hanley said. “There’s a reason why Yosemite and Yellowstone are not in a dust bowl.”

The stakeholder group will continue to refine their proposals and present them to the MLPA Blue Ribbon Task Force later this year. The task force will review the proposals and make a recommendation in early 2010 to the Department of Fish and Game, which has final approval.

The proposed Del Mar reserve is also raising concerns about the ability to dredge the high quality sand there for regional beach nourishment projects. It is also unclear if the reserve would prohibit placing sand on the beach or sand retention structures, said Adam Birnbaum, Del Mar planning manager.

While not a popular spot for commercial fishermen, between five and 20 fishermen often line Del Mar’s shore in the early morning, Rathsam said.

Harold Ballon, who has been fishing Del Mar for more than 20 years, was not pleased to hear about the proposed no-take reserve.

“That would be horrible,” said Ballon, who fishes a few times per week.

Fisherman Ed Krebs said he would be disappointed if the reserve were approved, but would go somewhere else to fish. He said recreational fishermen like him and Ballon do not have a significant impact on the ecosystem.

“The porpoises running up and down the beach probably catch 10 times the amount of fish we do,” Krebs said.

The public is invited to provide input on the proposed marine protected areas. Comments can be submitted in writing or during public comment at the next stakeholder group meeting, which is Aug. 3 and 4 in Carlsbad. For more information, visit