Panel pushes decision about marine protected areas to November

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A blue ribbon panel charged with choosing marine protected areas along Southern California's coast has delayed making a recommendation until next month. The panel wants more scientific information about a few key areas.

Hundreds of fishermen, kayakers, and supporters of ocean conservation turned out over three days in Long Beach to offer their views about which areas need protection most. The Marine Life Protection Act requires consideration of educational, environmental, and economic impacts in designing marine protected areas.

The most aggressive of three proposals would close about 17 percent of nearshore waters to fishing in Southern California. A state-sponsored economic analysis has found that the fishery's landings could decrease as much as 10 percent under that and other plans.

Fishermen and environmentalists are tussling over whether two kinds of habitat are protected by boundaries big enough to do the job. One is the back side of Catalina island, where the catch is squid, sea bass, and marlin, and deep rocky shore where kelp beds live are havens for lobsters and bass.

The five-person blue ribbon panel asked questions about the scientific basis for each plan. They will meet next month to finish the job of sending a plan forward to the state's fish and game commissioners.