Southern California anglers, conservationists negotiate ocean protection in Long Beach

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Molly Peterson/KPCC

Sergio Vasquez says he doesn't really like any of the plans for marine protected areas under consideration.

A blue ribbon panel will vote today in Long Beach on plans to designate marine protected areas along southern California's coast.

UPDATE, 1:00 p.m. October 23: The blue ribbon panel is delaying the decision until November, citing a need for more scientific analysis in key geographic areas of contention. Click here for more.

Spearfishermen, party boat captains, students, and scientists have weighed in over the last two days on proposals for protecting swaths of ocean territory from Santa Barbara to the border. But the negotiation for what goes in those proposals is at least a year and a half old. A group of 60-plus stakeholders developed three proposals – one deemed a conservation proposal, one deemed a fisherman-friendly proposal, and one deemed a compromise.

Heal the Bay staff scientist Sarah Sikich debated how to create protected marine areas on one of the three teams. Sikich helped make Map 1, what's become known as the compromise proposal. She says the plan she worked on came out of a long negotiation.

"We had to come up with interwoven compromise that represented some of each of those interests so we ended up with some protection at the canyon at Point Dume," she says. "We had very little shoreline protection in Palos Verdes because of economic concerns and allowed for squid fishing off the back of Catalina to bring in some of their interests."

Sikich says the idea behind what to protect under the MLPA is itself something interwoven, valuing the entire food web, the habitat in which different fish and species live, and the marine life itself. Still, the 10-year-old state law requires consideration of environmental, economic, and educational concerns. Sikich says in Southern California, those can all be in the same place.

"The northern side of Palos Verdes is incredibly rich. There's dense kelp forests, shallow rocky reef, and an interaction between the deep habitats and shallow habitats there," Sikich says. "You've got a similar thing up at the Point Dume headlands. Catalina's ecologically rich. Because these are ecologically rich places they're also places people love to fish, and that's what we had to balance at the end of the day."

Fishermen making comments in Long Beach on Wednesday overwhelmingly favored Map 2. Sergio Vasquez is a sportfisherman and runs a marine electronics business in Huntington Beach. He says he's worried ocean protection plans will interfere with his hobby and his business.

"Considering the way the economy's going in California, business has been very difficult as it stands," he says. "And if you take away the coastline from the sport then they're not going to want to use their boats, and the market's already flooded with boats for sale, so I'm going to have a very very hard time making a living."

The most restrictive of the maps, Map 3, closes under 10 percent of waters in the South Coast region. Vasquez says that's way too much. "We would rather not close anything," he says, "So even the sport fishermen agreeing to the proposed area number two is a huge compromise for us, because we already have regulations that we follow, so if you're talking about closing any areas for fishermen, that's a dramatic impact right there."

Nearly 50 countries use marine protected areas, or some form of spatial management in the ocean. California's already had 64 small marine reserves for some time. The 10-year-old Marine Life Protection Act has aimed to develop protected areas into a system in state waters 3 miles from California's coast.

The blue ribbon panel hearing public comment in Long Beach will vote on protected areas between Santa Barbara and the Mexican border today. Then plans for protection in Southern California go before fish and game commissioners for final approval in Sacramento.

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