Local recreational diver Norm Cole gave up fishing local waters decades ago, when the state imposed a moratorium on hunting abalone. “That was the end of my game taking in Laguna,” said Cole, who still fishes occasionally but nevertheless supports the imposition of a fishing ban effective Oct. 1.
The impact of new marine regulation that will prohibit fishing along most of Laguna’s coastline is sure to be felt by commercial fisherman, recreational anglers as well as some local merchants.
“There’s going to be lot of people that kind of just give up on it,” said Laguna Sea Sports’ Mike Kuhns, who anticipates losing hundreds of spear gun sales a year.
As a 31-year biology professor at Orange Coast College, Cole would often take students on dive trips to Catalina Island to show them the incredible diversity of life in their back yard.
He expects to continue spearing a meal from time to time after Oct. 1, but not in Laguna. “If I thought it was feasible to find sizable fish along the coast in Laguna south and north, I would probably dive here,” he said. Instead, Cole set his sights on fish around Catalina and San Clemente islands because “their kelps beds are much less disturbed than the ones by the coast.”
Cole began diving and fishing local waters in 1967, when he and his friends would often explore the rocky outcroppings off 1000 Steps Beach in South Laguna. But they didn’t do much spear fishing. Instead they would don wetsuits, weight belts, and tanks and trek down the mountain of stairs in the dark of night. “There would be so many abalone and lobster there that spearing fish was kind of silly,” he said. “You would see lobster upside down clinging to the bottom of those shelves. I mean literally by the dozens.”
Cole said extended periods of warm water and storm surge, along with increased pollution, led to the demise of local kelp beds, which had a direct impact on all fish populations. Recent kelp reforestation efforts along with cold water La Nina weather patterns have brought back the plant vital to the marine ecosystem.
Kuhns, who has fished locally for about 13 years, hasn’t noticed any significant reduction in the fish populations. However, his dad tells him, “in the last 20 or 30 years, there has definitely been a difference in the amount of fish and the size of fish.”
The kelp’s return is the perfect time to make the Laguna coast a “no-take” zone, according to Cole. He recently went snorkeling among the giant swaying stalks. “They look fantastic. I can see garibaldi, lots of garibaldi,” he said. “[Kelp] provides a habitat for everything else.”
Cole points to the success of “no-take” zones around the Channel Islands. On one recent dive near Catalina, he saw more than 15 large abalone. “Those no-take zones are so rich after the last 15, 20 years that fish are spreading out into other areas because of the density of the population.”
In time, Cole believes Laguna will see similar results. Until then, he won’t miss the times at Crescent Bay beach, where he often sees kids of all ages going out with their spear guns and coming back with fish that are either not edible or the wrong sizes. “It’s kind of maddening to see that kind of thing happening,” he said.
As the ban takes affect and the fish begin to return, Cole hopes people will get out and enjoy the ocean from a different perspective. “I think maybe people need to leave the weapons behind and take a look at it,” he said.