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Leaders Endorse Citywide Fishing Ban

Laguna Beach’s City Council voted 4-1 Tuesday to request that the California Department of Fish and Game give Laguna the highest possible level of marine protection, barring fishing of any kind in Laguna’s coastal waters by declaring the city’s entire seven-mile coastline a State Marine Reserve.

Council member Toni Iseman, who initiated the measure, said, “Let the ocean lay fallow. I’m asking for a time out.” Mayor Kelly Boyd cast the dissenting vote.

Nearly 50 people gave impassioned speeches, ranging from water quality advocates to recreational and commercial fishermen, over the course of two and a half hours of public testimony.

The council’s decision is non-binding, but serves to put California Department of Fish and Game (http://www.dfg.ca.gov) authorities on notice of its position before south coast regional hearings underway to revise coastal protections under the Marine Life Protection Act (http://www.dfg.ca.gov/mlpa) reach conclusion.

Council member Elizabeth Pearson expressed her frustration with the situation. “I haven’t seen any of the science. All we know is what opinions are. I don’t know that we’re over fished. I don’t know that we need replenishment. But I do know this: I have seen some disgusting things happening at Shaw’s Cove over the last 20 years. There’s been abuse after abuse after abuse. We keep educating and giving people tickets and putting people on staff and empowering the lifeguards and we can’t seem to stop it. So this is our last chance to do something…we are going to request that we be considered as a reserve.”

Opponent Roger Healy, president of Dana Cove Fisherman’s Association and a 35-year local resident, is in the process of earning a sustainability certification by the Marine Stewardship Council (http://www.msc.org/) for the lobster fishery in the area. He feels the rules are being applied unevenly and unfairly, citing Laguna resident Jan Sattler, who brought in two garibaldi, the protected California state fish, as evidence of irresponsible fishing.

“If I was caught with that garibaldi, I would lose all my fishing permits. Several guys went out and called the (Fish and Game) warden when they saw her walk in with that. That disgusts me as a fisherman that anyone would be in possession of that.”

In pursuing a single citywide designation, the council asserted that education and enforcement of varied regulations is too difficult. Enforcing a simple “no fishing” policy for the entire Laguna coast would be cheaper, easier and clearer to the public, according to a staff report.

Numerous speakers pointed out Laguna’s inadequate enforcement now with a single marine protection officer who lacks a boat to patrol seven miles of shoreline three miles wide. “The area will be a poacher’s paradise and exclude the legitimate fishermen,” Healy claimed.

Economics loomed large in the discussion. Several commercial fishermen said their livelihoods would be jeopardized because Laguna provided a fishing habitat that could not be found elsewhere. “They want to close seven of the 12 miles of the coast I fish. It will absolutely destroy me as an individual. And several of the others that fish in the area will be destroyed as well,” said Healy.

A ban on fishing in Laguna would increase pressure on wildlife in adjacent areas, like San Clemente and Newport Beach, said Jim Dahl, a San Clemente City Council member.

Iseman countered that wildlife abundance in marine reserves as populations rebound will actually alleviate fishing pressures nearby.

Greg O’Loughlin, a member of the city’s environmental committee, echoed that  sentiment, saying fishermen in central California, where the Marine Life Protection Act  process has already been finalized, say fishing adjacent to marine reserves has improved. O’Loughlin, an avid diver, surfer and fisherman, supports greater restrictions in Laguna, which he described as over fished. “I understand the loss. I might not be able to go and fish in front of my house. I’m willing to pay the price to go a little farther to preserve an area.”

The City Council’s measure suggests a marine reserve would spawn a different sort of economic impact, boosting tourism and raising property values. Opponents dismissed the notion, saying people drawn to the area for fishing would stop coming.

Joel Greenburg, Southern California chapter chairman of the Recreational Fishing Alliance, said the council’s proposal is, “too far over the top. It would wipe out the economies of two major ports (Dana Pt. Harbor and Newport Harbor). That’s like saying only my piece of the coast matters and yours doesn’t.”

Laguna Beach lacks the authority to designate a Marine Protected Area, a responsibility that rests with the state Fish and Game Department. Under the Marine Life Protection Act, regulators must establish Marine Protected Areas that function as a statewide network.

The Regional Stakeholder’s Group (http://www.dfg.ca.gov/mlpa/scproject.asp), 64 representatives from various ocean-related interests, are charged under the MLPA with making a recommendation to state game regulators. A third and final round of revisions is in the works this summer before a final proposal is submitted by year end. Laguna’s marine protection officer, Calla Alison, is among the stakeholder group.

Currently all six proposals under consideration declare some part of Laguna a State Marine Reserve, but none impose the designation across the entire coast of Laguna.

“We are trying to listen to all the voices,” said Jenn Fienberg, an RSG member and ocean policy consultant to the National Resources Defense Council. “So we will listen to (the Laguna City Council) just as we would listen to 20 fishermen talking about their favorite fishing spots.”

Mayor Boyd, who cast the sole dissenting vote, said, “we all know what the economic stimulus package did for us. Now we’re going to stimulate these people by taking their livelihood away?

“We’re not looking at the overall picture. Who the hell is going to enforce it? So now we’re going to go seven miles long, three miles out, with the state $24 billion in debt, Laguna $800,000 in debt, and we’re going to enforce? I don’t think so.”

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