Marine conservation proponents from Laguna Beach joined a sometimes raucous crowd to testify before a state commission in San Diego this past Wednesday considering whether to enact a marine reserve across most of Laguna’s coast.
About 800 people packed a conference room to capacity, leaving another 100 stranded outside, to plead their case to the Fish and Game Commission as it decides on 35 proposed marine protected areas across Southern California, including three that cumulatively cover the entire coast of Laguna.
The crowd held signs aloft, clapped and shouted over speakers even after a scolding by Commission President Jim Kellog.
Different options are on the table for various marine protected areas, including the proposed Laguna Beach State Marine Reserve, which would prohibit the take of any living or non-living thing. The current proposal, dubbed the Integrated Preferred Alternative, includes the Laguna Beach coast from Irvine Cove to Seacliff Drive. The area south of Seacliff Drive would still be protected but at a lower level, with some types of fishing still allowed.
In a town known historically for shore anglers, spear fishermen and lobster hunters, bestowing the highest level of environmental protection on the shoreline and banning fishing has hit resistance.
Former Laguna mayor Anne Christoph urged the commission to adopt a citywide reserve, saying, “The IPA provides lesser protection for the southern portion of our city, which in fact has some of the best rocky inter-tidal habitat in the city.”
Jeff Sporcich, of Anaheim, who often spearfishes in Laguna with his nephew who has cerebral palsy, asked that the marine reserve’s southern boundary shift north of Treasure Island, to preserve ocean access to spearfishing spots for disabled people. “His favorite thing is to go spear fishing with me and bring home dinner,” Sporcich said of his nephew.
Some have questioned whether Laguna Beach can enforce a citywide fishing ban, staffed by a single marine protection officer and without a boat.
City Council member Verna Rollinger told the commission Laguna’s residents as well as a majority of its elected officials’ support a citywide reserve. She also said the city’s trained staff and volunteers can enforce protections.
Dave Ploessel, of Vista, whose grandfather dived in Laguna beginning in 1933, said, “The city of Laguna wants fishing; it’s the City Council that doesn’t,” comments applauded by fishermen.
Other Laguna residents who spoke in support of the citywide reserve were Jinger Wallace, Louise Thornton, Ginger Osborne, Barbara Picheny, Council member Toni Iseman’s representative Mike Soto, and Calla Allison, Laguna’s marine protection officer.
Opposition also came from the South Orange County Waste Water Authority, which think the reserve will result in undetermined water quality requirements around the sewage treatment plant outfall pipe offshore Aliso Beach, said spokesman Brennon Flahive.
Another option would change the reserve’s southern boundary to landmarks visible to shore-based fishermen rather than those who rely on GPS systems.
Laguna resident Richard Picheny said, “Fishing will not be hindered by a city wide marine reserve. We are not asking to prohibit fishing; we are asking fishermen to fish in other areas.”
Picheny also cited other marine reserves where marine life is thriving under protections.
One critic questioned focusing on fishing’s impact on ecosystems when failing to consider pollution, acidification, and oil drilling. Commissioner Richard B. Rogers agreed. “Many of us up here on the dais want to talk about all of those different things but the way the legislation was written the MLPA did not allow us to address those. I agree with you those other things are significant stressors.”
The commission will hold a final hearing Dec. 15-16 in Santa Barbara on marine protected areas between Pt. Conception and Mexico.