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Marine Protections Finalized

The state Fish and Game Commission has finalized a plan declaring most of Laguna Beach a marine reserve, affording it the highest protection under state law.

In this historic decision, which designates 36 marine protected areas across Southern California, a largely environmental precedent has been set.

Ray Hiemstra, Associate Director of Orange County Coastkeeper, said, “We did not get what we wanted: an all-Laguna reserve. It was a really close vote as to whether we even got what DFG recommended. We’re happy we got the compromise we were working for.”

Dana Point resident Rodger Healy, President of CA Lobster and Trap Fisherman’s Association, said, “I think its not based on good science, or a fair process. I’m actually amazed we almost lost Crystal Cove. Our fisheries are well regulated. They’re healthy and sustainable This is action without any cause. I really don’t know how our commercial fisheries are going to survive after this.”

There will be a marine reserve, or “no take” zone, from Irvine Cove in the north, to Sea Cliff Drive in the South with a special exemption for the wastewater outfall pipe at Aliso Creek. The remaining coastline will be two marine conservation areas where fishing will still be allowed, but taking from tidepools will be prohibited.

The Marine Life Protection Act, established in 1998 was largely in response to precipitous declines in numerous species of sea life under fishing pressure.

 The debate will likely shift to enforcement, which may prove difficult for the city’s lone marine protection officer, who does not have a boat. Fish and Game Wardens will also be charged with enforcement, but are understaffed.

The decision is the result of a two-year public planning process, with often contentious meetings packed with hundreds of people, as well as 64 regional stakeholders, and was reached under the guidance of a science advisory team made up of 20 preeminent marine scientists.

About 15 people from Laguna attended the Commission’s monthly meeting, held in Santa Barbara.

Commissioner Michael Sutton noted “We will revisit periodically the efficacy of these reserves and see whether we need to adjust them, open up some areas or make changes in their boundaries.”

The plan protects 16.5% of Southern California’s coastline, and while Heal the Bay said the overwhelming majority remains to fishing, several of the most prized fishing grounds, including much of Laguna Beach, have been closed.

The decision will undoubtedly have an economic impact on fishing and related industries.

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