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Laguna Stays the Course on Fishing Ban

The City Council reiterated its support for a city-wide fishing ban and the designation of its entire coastline as a marine reserve, the highest level of protection permitted under state law. The controversial decision, which is still pending before state wildlife officials, ignited heated local debate last June that continues to simmer.

At Tuesday’s meeting, as he was a year ago, Council member Kelly Boyd was the lone dissenter. He said recreational fishermen act responsibly, taking only fish they intend to eat and throwing back under-sized catch. “I will vote against this again. I just think it’s wrong,” he said.

Of 15 members of the public who spoke on the matter, 11 favored the council’s position. By contrast, in June 2009, both factions came out in force and public comment lasted for hours.

The issue was on the agenda at the state Fish and Game Commission meeting in Monterey this past Wednesday, where about 20 Laguna residents and supporters of the city council resolution traveled to voice their position, according to Louise Thornton who texted from the meeting. The commission is in the late stages of drafting maps and rules for marine protected areas between Point Conception and the Mexican border. Rodger Healy, president of the California Lobster and Trap Fishery Association, also confirmed that a few dozen pro-fishing supporters from Orange County were at the meeting, explaining their absence at the city council meeting Tuesday.

“No reason to attend Laguna’s predetermined decision,” Healy wrote via text from inside the meeting, reflecting the sentiment from many pro-fishing constituents that their testimony was not given due credit at last June’s heated council meeting, and the fact that the Department of Fish and Game’s jurisdiction overrides decisions by any city in California.

Among the Laguna residents present at the Commission meeting was Jinger Wallace, member of the Laguna Blue Belt Coalition, who said in a phone interview from the meeting, “We are testifying before the Fish and Game Commission. We’re supporting the City Council’s agenda item and asking them to respect the science and public participation.”

The Commission is addressing unresolved issues in the final proposal, arrived at after almost two years of intense debate, negotiation and public hearings involving scientists, conservationists and divers as well as recreational and commercial fishermen. The unresolved points are how to meet proposed environmental requirements, compatibility with existing regulations and activities in the marine protected areas, and making the areas easier to enforce and be understood by the public.

Among the proposed changes are:

Changing the Laguna marine reserve’s (important to distinguish because there is more than one MPA in Laguna Beach.) southern boundary to exclude the Aliso Creek sewage treatment outfall, a mile offshore, because it would pollute an area that is supposed to receive the highest level of protection, according to a Fish and Game Department report. Alternative options would designate the area around the outfall, or the entire Laguna coastline a “conservation area,” a lower level of protection.

Boundaries of the Laguna marine reserve may be redrawn using visible landmarks for ease of enforcement and public knowledge. The boundaries are difficult to read without GPS capability, which many fishermen lack.

Redrawing boundaries will change the size of the reserve and affect shared boundaries with conservation areas in Crystal Cove and Dana Point.

Commercial take of certain species would still be allowed in the Crystal Cove conservation area under the proposed plan, so the department is considering prohibiting this commercial take as well.

The new Crystal Cove conservation area will subsume an existing protected area named after Robert E. Badham, so the department is considering changing the name of part or all of the Crystal Cove conservation area to reflect that.

Annie Reisewitz, a spokesperson for the Marine Life Protection Act initiative, said new regulations would likely take affect in mid 2011.

Not everyone favored the council majority.

Don Barris said, “I’ve sent my family wonderful nutritious fish from the waters here since I moved here in 1971. I’m a marine wildlife artist and I make my living loving the ocean. The fish you want to preserve are all being vacuumed out of the Pacific. They’re all in Asian fish markets. We can’t get the Japanese to stop killing whales, but we’re going to stop fishing in Laguna,” he said, adding, “I feel that the people who are pushing this are conspiring to steal a precious human right for me. Under ancient anglo-saxon law I have a right to feed my family from the commons. I’m not your enemy. I thought I was an ecologist, but now I’m being called a fish eater, a fish murderer.”

Dave Connell had a more pointed view, “We’re fighting a fad, and environmental extremist wacko fad about closing the ocean. I do not know what their agenda is, but it is not to save the fish. It is not to keep the ocean clean. Fishing has no adverse impact on the ocean in any form.”

Mayor Elizabeth Pearson expressed sentiments that echoed her words last June: “It’s the people we don’t know who come in and don’t know better who’ve ruined it for everyone else. We need to take a time out.”

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