Laguna’s Coastline Closes to Anglers Jan. 1

New fishing restrictions along Laguna's coast are now set to take affect Jan. 1.

No-fishing restrictions along most of Laguna’s coastline will take effect on Jan. 1, fish and game officials decided last week.

The effective date, proposed for late in 2011, was postponed due to litigation over new restrictive provisions in the state’s Marine Life Protection Act by the Partnership for Sustainable Oceans, an alliance of individuals and businesses involved with recreational and commercial fishing seeking to block closure regulations. Newly adopted restrictions in the law have been under review by the state’s Office of Administrative Law to bolster it against the legal challenge, Sonke Mastrup, executive director of the state Fish and Game Commission, said this week.

“They felt there was some vulnerability,” Mastrup said, “so they wanted to make sure they dotted all their i’s and crossed all their t’s.”

The revised document will also better explain why the particular restricted areas were chosen, which will be clarified at the commission’s meeting on Oct. 19 and 20 in Monterey.  The newly approved provisions in the 10-year-old statute will step up enforcement protections intended to restore ocean habitat from Santa Barbara’s Pt. Conception to the Mexican border.

Last December, in a historic 3-2 decision the commission approved the changes, which declared  most of Laguna Beach’s coastline a marine reserve, the highest protection under state law, and also designates 36 other protected areas across Southern California waters.

The decision will establish a “no take” zone banning commercial and recreational fishing from North Laguna’s Irvine Cove to South Laguna’s Sea Cliff Drive. An exemption was carved out for the Aliso Creek water treatment outfall. The remaining bit of coastline at the city’s southern border will become conservation areas where most fishing is allowed.

In a town where recreational shore fishing, spear fishing and lobster hunting is part of local lore, perhaps no other issue has proved as divisive as the City Council’s 4-1 decision in June 2009 to support imposing marine sanctuary protections. Public hearings to refine marine preserve boundaries invariably elicited impassioned testimony from water quality advocates to recreational and commercial fishermen.

The recent delay was also due to an error in providing enough legal notice about the new restrictions to people who spoke on the topic in public meetings in the past three years. “There was a procedural glitch where there were people commenting on the old rule-making who weren’t included in the noticing procedure,” Mastrup said.  “Some of the people fell through the cracks.”

“Part of this is to make sure the administrative record is sound,” added Mastrup, “and the restrictions are enforceable.”


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