SACRAMENTO — A bill to create a marine life refuge near Isthmus Cove on Santa Catalina Island sailed through an Assembly committee last week, raising hopes among marine biologists that one of the island's richest concentrations of sea life will be preserved for scientific study.
The legislation would set aside a three-quarter-mile-long chunk of the Santa Catalina coastline east of Isthmus Cove as a sanctuary for sea life. The refuge would stretch from Chalk Cliff to Blue Cavern Point, encompassing all of Fisherman's Cove and a 100-yard-wide strip of ocean to the east.
'Major Hurdle' Jumped
The legislation would prohibit vessels from entering the refuge and would bar divers and fishermen from taking fish or marine plants from it. Because Fisherman's Cove offers natural protection from storms approaching the island from the northeast, the bill would allow boats to enter the refuge during an "emergency caused by hazardous weather."
On Wednesday, the Assembly Committee on Water, Parks and Wildlife approved the bill authored by Sen. Robert G. Beverly (R-Manhattan Beach) on an 8-0 vote. Beverly described the approval as "a major policy hurdle" for the legislation, which has already passed the Senate.
Beverly predicted that the bill will win easy approval in the Assembly Ways and Means Committee later this month and in the full Assembly in August. Although Gov. George Deukmejian has taken no position on the bill, the state Department of Fish and Game has recommended only minor changes to it--often an indication that the governor has no serious objections.
Beverly is carrying the bill at the request of the Catalina Marine Science Center, a 20-year-old research and teaching facility at Fisherman's Cove run by USC. The proposed refuge would be modeled after the Hopkins Marine Life Refuge in Pacific Grove near Monterey, a marine research area operated by Stanford University.
Ann M. Muscat, former director of the Catalina center, told the Assembly committee on Wednesday that the refuge is necessary to protect sea life near the research facility from divers and fishermen.
In an interview, Muscat blamed diving and sportfishing boats for leaving trash on the ocean floor, damaging kelp beds with boat propellers and removing marine life such as fish, abalone and lobster needed for research. She said researchers have been snagged by fish hooks while diving and nearly struck by anchors. Some fishing boat passengers have thrown fish and eggs at students, she said.
"This is an incredibly unique resource that cannot be duplicated," Muscat said. "The fishing boats have a lot of other areas to go to on Catalina. The scientific community doesn't really have any other alternative. You can't pick up our labs and move them."
Fishing Group's Opposition
Although no one spoke against the bill at the committee meeting, the Sportfishing Assn. of California opposes it. William A. Nott, president of the organization, said about 40 fishing boats based in Redondo Beach, San Pedro and Long Beach bring anglers to the Fisherman's Cove area. He described the area as one of the best along the island for fishing.
Nott said his group has not actively opposed the bill because it had hoped to work out a compromise with Muscat and the marine science center. The association had proposed splitting the proposed refuge in half, giving the center an area protected from the fishermen and the fishermen an area free of researchers.
"They are very hardheaded about this," Nott said. "They want the whole thing. They say we have all of the island to fish. That is not so. All of the island does not have fish. That is one of the few areas when you get west of the middle of the island that you can do any good."
Beverly, following Muscat's lead, has been unwilling to amend the bill to Nott's liking, citing the need to preserve the ecological integrity of the entire refuge area for research purposes.
"In the long run, by encouraging this research, you will actually be helping sportfishermen," Beverly said.
Suggested Several Amendments
Sandra Wolfe, special projects manager for the Department of Fish and Game, said the state is sensitive to the needs of the fishermen, but she said the department has not endorsed the move to divide the area. The department suggested several amendments--since incorporated into the bill--to help enforce the refuge restrictions, she said.
"We don't have any particular problem with the bill," Wolfe said. "There are other places for recreational anglers to fish, but there aren't always good study areas."
In written comments prepared for the Assembly committee, one marine biologist said preservation of the Fisherman's Cove area would provide an ideal location for marine plants and animals to reproduce, which in turn could help restock nearby areas depleted by fishing. That way, she wrote, both researchers and anglers would be served by the refuge.
"Unless we have the foresight to protect some areas from exploitation, future generations will not have the chance to share our appreciation of the marine environment," wrote Bobette V. Nelson of the Coastal Research Center at UC Santa Barbara, one of several universities that send students and faculty to the Catalina center.