Panel delays habitat decision

Task force to gather more data on coastal areas

Saying it didn’t have enough information to pick one of three proposals for marine protected areas along the Southern California coast, a state panel will gather more data before making a decision on Nov. 10.

After a year of public inquiry and three days of testimony, the five-member Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Blue Ribbon Task Force on Oct. 22 requested further scientific analysis of habitat maps for coastal areas including La Jolla, Del Mar, Solana Beach and other areas in San Diego County.

The panel, an advisory group appointed by the governor which met in Long Beach, had been expected to choose a preferred alternative from three offered that would establish protected areas along Southern California’s coastline from Santa Barbara to Mexico. All three choices, to varying degrees, would create marine protected areas, making them off-limits to fishing.

Their recommendation ultimately will go to the state Fish and Game Commission.

Joe Exline of Oceanside Anglers Club represented San Diego fishing interests at the meeting, said task force members are mixing and matching, selectively choosing components from all three plans to come up with an integrated preferred alternative that strikes a balance between ocean conservation and fishing interests.

“They are in the middle of negotiations and discussions on how to come up with that,” he said.

Scripps Institution of Oceanography research scientist Ed Parnell feels its important the ocean habitat in south La Jolla, which would be preserved in proposals 1 and 3 but not in Proposal 2 favored by fishermen, be protected. “South La Jolla has the best habitat, that’s where you get more conservation bang for your buck protecting ground fish species that really need it,” he said. “If you’re going to set aside a network of marine reserves, you have to protect habitat for these animals.”

Seal advocate and civil engineer Katheryn Rhodes hopes the MLPA panel enacts Proposal 3 because it straightens the boundaries of La Jolla Cove Underwater Reserve creating a nearly 90-degree angle from La Jolla Point north and east to Scripps Pier making buoys marking the preserve “less confusing.”

Chairwoman Catherine Reheis-Boyd noted the difficulty of her blue-ribbon group’s task at last week’s MLPA hearing.

“We’ve got three really good proposals,” she said. “We know what the law is: But we also understand the human side of this: You’ve got people’s livelihoods at stake.”

“What we have here is a very substantial economic effect on a lot of people,” agreed task force member Gregory Schem. “Balance is what we’re really seeking to achieve here.”

Task force member Meg Caldwell noted it is incumbent for the group to “move forward with marine protected areas that can be managed and enforced.”

The Marine Life Protection Act was signed into law in 1999 to establish a series of underwater parks along the California coastline for the protection of sea life. For more than a year, environmentalists, fishermen and other ocean users have debated how to enact the MLPA in Southern California from Point Conception to the U.S.-Mexico border including La Jolla and its high-profile kelp beds.

The three options before the task force:

Proposal 1 would put three miles of Del Mar’s shoreline, the San Dieguito and San Elijo lagoons in a Marine Protected Area, meaning there would be no fishing or taking of marine habitat allowed.

Proposal 2 keeps fishing open in La Jolla — with the exception of La Jolla Cove — with protected areas off parts of Point Loma and including most of Del Mar and the San Dieguito Lagoon. This has the support of commercial fishing interests and recreational anglers.

Proposal 3 would have a protected area from Crystal Pier in Pacific Beach to Neptune Park in WindanSea and from La Jolla Cove to Scripps Pier extending three miles out into the Pacific Ocean. It would shift the protected region to an area north of Del Mar. Seal proponents and Coastkeeper are asking that the Children’s Pool be included.

A major point of contention among stakeholders centers on the question of just how badly depleted California fish species really are.

Environmentalists insist many fish stocks are dangerously low and want as much San Diego coastline protected as possible to replenish populations. Commercial and recreational fishermen dispute that interpretation, arguing the status quo on fish species populations isn’t nearly that bad, and that there are other equally important considerations; namely the economic livelihoods of commercial fishermen and the public’s right to ocean access.