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Marine Protections to Take Effect Oct. 1

The state Fish and Game Commission voted 4-1 this week to set Oct. 1 the effective date for increased marine protections in Southern California, which will ban fishing along most of Laguna Beach’s coastline the day before recreational lobster diving season begins.

Reaction to the decision sparked a mix of action: conservationists are refocusing their efforts to organize a volunteer corps to tip undermanned enforcement authorities on marine violators, while commercial fishermen are weighing anchor and relocating to less restrictive harbors.

Mike Beanan, a proponent of the Laguna Blue Belt, a group that seeks environmental protections for Laguna’s coastline, said, “It’s pretty exciting. The sooner the better. I think everyone is going to benefit,” referring to the potential for increased fish populations within the marine reserve to spill over and improve fishing in adjacent areas.

Rodger Healy, president of the California Lobster and Trap Fishermen’s Association, said, “As fishermen we are let down by the process. It is transparently not fair. It reflects poorly on the process that we get no credit for being responsible stewards for 100 years of lobster fishing,” said Healy, whose fishery has the highest sustainability rating by Seafood Watch. California Halibut, another popular local species, however, has moderate to bad ratings, and points to the complexity of ecosystem evaluation.

Josh Fisher, a lobster fisherman and member of the stakeholder group involved in crafting the new protections, who is opposed to the Laguna Beach marine reserve, moved his boat from Dana Point to King Harbor, in Redondo Beach, because he saw the closure coming. He now lives and fishes there.

The decision to establish the highest legal level of protection for almost all of Laguna’s coast came after two years of hearings and negotiation between local conservationists, marine scientists, and commercial and recreational ocean users. The issue remains contentious as Laguna’s city council majority supported establishing the marine reserve, sparking protest by a long-established fishing community that sought to preserve its tradition.

Enforceability of the new rules remains unclear due to thin staffing of state game wardens. In 2009, California had the fewest amount of wardens per capita of any state, said Mike McBride, the state Department of Fish and Game’s assistant enforcement chief. Locally, the city’s sole marine protection officer lacks a boat. Joy Falk, one of the City’s animal services officers in a 2009 interview said fishing violations often fall to the bottom of a long list of calls and don’t get attention until offenders have left the area.

Healy said, “It’s ludicrous to say we wouldn’t want sustainable fisheries. But they can’t enforce what we have on the books now. I’m a law-abiding guy. I will lose my livelihood if I violate the law. This just displaces the people that are abiding by the rules.”

Ray Hiemstra, director of programs for Orange County Coast Keeper, seeks to address the enforcement shortfall.

“My feelings are it’s great it will be implemented. Now we’re going into full bore mode with training our volunteers and working with the D.F.G. and different enforcement authorities to get a program in place by then.”

Coast Keeper volunteers will monitor county beaches in an effort to provide enforcement agencies like the Department of Fish and Game information on where enforcement resources are most needed. The program is being modeled on a program developed by Monterey Bay Coast Keeper, according to Hiemstra.

“Basically we are the extra eyes that are going to be looking out,” he said.

Beanan’s wife Jinger Wallace, also an advocate of marine reserves, may be just the kind of person Hiemstra is looking for.

“I’m delighted it’s moving along and we have a firm date after years of public participation. If the public is engaged and the community is inspired to support and protect this, the reserves can work to restore our marine habitat.”

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Comments (6)

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  1. I am so pleased that the Laguna Blue Belt is happy with the closure! Perhaps one day the minortiy will realize that the ocean belongs to ALL. The paper closure should prove interesting to enforce with volunteers, ONE marine protection officer without a vessel and an understaffed DFG. Hopefully the Blue Belt, docents, and OC Coastkeeper invest in night vision gear as they are going to need it with the rampant poaching that will take place.

    Yep, truly amazing!

  2. Good get rid of those who destory the ocean, and maybe we will see the quality marine environment I had when I bought MY beach front property! Those commercial fisherman are a bunch of lowlifes anyway!

  3. Just Curious says:

    Mr. Handy,

    Glad to know YOU own YOUR OWN piece of the beach. However, do YOU own the ocean as well? And have you ever met/addressed any commercial fisherman? Your opinion of commercial fisherman is based on what specifically? I’m very interested to know how you come up with such a description. All professions have their share of degenerates. Perhaps you should consider doing some homework before you cast stones. And I’m just a person who enjoys the beach, the ocean, and a good plate of seafood. Have you excluded such fare that these “lowlife” commercial fishermen catch from your menu, or do you continue to enjoy the ocean’s riches while you complain about those who harvest that which you choose to eat? Pollution is the bigger enemy here, what are you doing to bring the quality back to YOUR beachfront property?

  4. Scapegoat says:

    The real problem is that the DFG never properly regulated our fisheries, and then freaked out when their inept policies didn’t work out as well as they had hoped. Look at our abalone fisheries, DFG let those fisheries collapse under their watch in the 60’s and 70’s and then “recently” closed the whole fishery in southern California. By that time, a disease wrecked havoc on any of the natural stock we had left and long story short, no abalone. In this case, they punished the commercial and sport fishermen for decades of their own short comings. It’s like punishing your pets because they ate the grilled cheese sandwich you carelessly left on the coffee table. Ironically, I believe our local lobster fishery was totally sustainable. I’m not a commercial fisherman but I am a biologist, have worked in aquaculture, and have surf fished in Laguna since I was a kid. I’m totally bummed that I won’t be able to surf fish in Laguna again, especially when I always practiced catch and release. One more resource closed to everyone. I’m glad I can still fish on the beach in my town, for now.

  5. Protection of our new Marine Reserves and enforcement of the Fish and Game regulations will be easier than people would think. In addition to our Marine Protection Officer, we have lifeguards, animal control officers and even the police that can write tickets. We have substantial community resources to aid enforcement officials like Laguna Ocean Foundation’s Tidewater docents and educators. Finally, the general public can easily understand the meaning of “No Take” and can alert enforcement officials when necessary. We no longer have to remember all the different fish you can or can’t take and what size they have to be or whether it is the right season- it’s simple, No-Take of any species.
    I look forward to the new Laguna State Marine Reserve and think it will bring restoration of the marine habitat and an increase in the local eco-tourism industry.

  6. LagunaSwimChic, you are wrong. There are not nearly enough resources to monitor the mlpa closures. In fact, most people I talk to haven’t even heard about the ban. Furthermore, there are certain gps coordinates that map out exactly where the new mlpa areas are. So how are you going to be able to figure if a person is fishing within that area, or just 20′ outside of it?
    I’m all for putting guide lines in to protect our oceans and coastline, but this one is ridiculous. First, it’s unenforceable. They vote to impose the new law on Oct 1st, opening for lobster season. Probably 80% of divers and hoop netters don’t even know about the new law. Wouldn’t it have made sense to impose the law sooner so people know what’s actually going on? Seems like a way for the state (and Laguna Beach) to try and write tickets to make some extra revenue. Second, the real problem is the commercial fishing, not the occasional sport fisher or local resident who wants to dive for a bug legally.
    The pendulum has swung way to far the other way, creating an unenforceable situation and taking away the rights from those of us that have fished and spearfished by the laws for years.
    One more note: The new mlpa is still in litigation and will be fought vigorously. A slimmed down variation of the mapped out area should be the result. Not a total ban. This is just like “black ball” for surfers in Newport in the Summer.

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