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VENTURA COUNTY NEWS

Big Expansion of Marine Haven Considered

Environment: Possible quadrupling of Channel Islands sanctuary alarms commercial fishermen.

May 31, 2000|AARON SANDERFORD | TIMES STAFF WRITER

OXNARD — A plan that could extend the boundaries of Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary all the way to the beach is causing alarm among commercial fishermen and harbor operators who worry the action could threaten their livelihoods.

The federal Sanctuary Advisory Council discussed five preliminary options to expand the protected waters at a workshop Tuesday in Oxnard.

Proposals range from a simple squaring of existing boundaries to a sweeping plan to include an additional 5,096 square miles, from the shores of Point Sal, which is northwest of Lompoc, continuing southeast to Point Mugu and south to Santa Barbara Island. The 1,658-square-mile sanctuary now borders the five protected islands.

The workshop focused on the council's recent research, which studied waters near the sanctuary, to help the council decide whether any additional waters warrant inclusion and which should be omitted from revised boundaries.

The council's 20 members serve three-year terms and provide advice on issues of marine resource education, protection and research. They will recommend an expansion plan to Channel Islands Marine Sanctuary administrators.

Waters within the sanctuary are more rigorously protected against pollution, oil drilling, and the dumping of anything other than fish, bait, water and waste incidental to boating use.

"My opinion probably isn't any different than any of the other guys'," Oxnard fisherman James McClelland said in a telephone interview. "We're all scared to death of it; we don't feel like we have any chance to fight it."

The proposed expansion of boundaries is different than the establishment of stricter "no-take zones," which prohibit all commercial and sport fishing, said council Chairman Craig Fusaro. A few no-take zones now exist within sanctuary boundaries, so expansion of the sanctuary does open the possibility of further restrictions, he said.

"Most of the targeted areas are closer to the islands," he said. "But it looks to me inevitable that some [new] areas will be designated as no-fishing zones."

Although limited expansion of no-take zones is likely, Fusaro said, a decision is months away at the earliest. Designating the no-take zones within sanctuary waters is done by the Marine Reserve Working Group, a different delegation.

Still, the prospect of additional regulation has members of Ventura County's commercial fishing community nervous, though some of them hope that expanded protections could help replenish depleted stocks of urchins and other sea life.

Council member Bruce Steele, who represents commercial fishing interests on the panel, said boundary expansion could benefit the environment--but at a cost.

"These sorts of things can actually control the impact of man on these areas and save the fish population from falling too low," he said. "But they can also cost people their livelihoods if the area is too restricted."

Fusaro said the goal is to protect more of the waters that have a direct influence on the ecosystem of the Channel Islands sanctuary. He added that sanctuary officials have an opportunity to offer monitoring and enforcement assistance to regional clean-water efforts.

As evidence, he cited water-improvement efforts near Monterey, where a larger protected area allowed a sanctuary to help with clean-water efforts, even inland.

Lt. Cmdr. Matthew Pickett, manager of the Channel Islands sanctuary, said his office had not yet decided on a preferred expansion plan. His office will probably select a preferred option sometime late this year, he said, once the advisory council submits a more polished draft of alternatives in July.

"We want some sensible alternatives, and something like going into the coast could help us tremendously in terms of awareness," he said. "It is simple stakeholder involvement, because going to the beach would be visiting the sanctuary."

FYI

The next public meeting on the issue is scheduled June 14 at the Goleta Valley Community Center, 5679 Hollister Ave., Goleta, beginning at 9 a.m. For further details, contact the sanctuary office at 966-7107 or visit the sanctuary Web site at www.cinms.nos.noaa.gov/nmpreserves.html.

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