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Final Round of Hearings Set on Marine Reserve

The state Department of Fish and Game Commission meets Wednesday, Oct. 20, in San Diego for the second to last public hearing before deciding whether most of Laguna Beach’s coastline will be declared a protected marine reserve.

Such a designation would ban fishing in a town known historically for shore anglers, spear fishermen and lobster hunters, imposing the highest level of environmental protection on the shoreline by prohibiting the taking of any species or artifacts.

The commission’s expected ruling, which will stipulate varying levels of regulatory protection along the entire Southern California coastline for the next five years, comes after two years of hearings, revisions and negotiations over the application of the Marine Life Protection Act.

Ocean activists, including members of the South Laguna Civic Association, and Laguna Blue Belt Coalition, intend to speak at the hearing at the Sheraton Four Points.

“We will be urging the Fish and Game Commissioners to look at the advantages of having a city-wide marine reserve for Laguna,” said Jinger Wallace, a member of the Laguna Blue Belt Coalition.

Charlotte Masarik, organizing a local carpool, expects 30 residents to attend the meeting.

“It should be 100 under the circumstances but it never is,” she said, adding that elected council members Toni Iseman and Verna Rollinger, along with former mayor Anne Christoph are among those planning to attend.

Laguna Beach’s City Council voted 4-1 in support of a full marine reserve last year.

A diverse group of 64 regional stakeholders, and a 20-member team of scientific advisors will also be at Wednesday’s meeting to offer expert guidance and opinions.

Different options for various marine protected areas will be considered, including the proposed Laguna Beach State Marine Reserve. The current proposal, dubbed the Integrated Preferred Alternative, includes the Laguna Beach coast from Irvine Cove to Seacliff Drive, south of Aliso Beach. The area south of Seacliff Drive would still be protected, but at a lower level, with some fishing still allowed.

There is an option to designate part of the marine reserve, specifically the area around the water treatment outfall pipe a mile offshore from Aliso Creek, to have a lower designation to accommodate “operation and maintenance activities,” according to a document released by Jon K. Fischer, the commission’s acting executive director, last month.

The options would also consider changing the southern boundary of the marine reserve to make it easier to identify for shore-based fishermen who use visible landmarks instead of GPS systems.

The Commission will hold a final meeting Dec. 15-16 in Santa Barbara before issuing its decision on marine protected areas stretching from Pt. Conception to Mexico.

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