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Panel Agrees on No-Fishing Zone

Marine life: Proposed 20% area around Channel Islands doesn't please everyone. Fishermen had argued against any no-take areas through most of the two years of negotiations.

April 20, 2001|MATT SURMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

After nearly two years of study and debate, a panel of fishermen and conservationists has agreed on a 20% no-fishing zone around the Channel Islands, but the compromise seemed to please no one.

The tentative map, drawn Wednesday during an all-day give-and-take meeting, included a large swath of a no-fishing zone north of San Miguel Island. But critics say that area--about 12% of the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary--is already a virtual no-take zone because of its remoteness and rough weather.

The remaining agreed-upon areas include small spots on the southern side of Santa Rosa and Santa Cruz islands.

Fishermen, however, argued the scenario was not a victory. They say they had already given up much ground, far beyond where they were nearly two years ago when the process began.

Fishermen had argued against any no-take zones through most of the negotiations.

"We've come a long way and we've been treated like we didn't, because we didn't go as far as you all deemed necessary with your lofty goals," said Bob Fletcher, president of the Sportfishing Assn. of California. "We'll be beat up about the head and shoulders by constituents for giving up what we gave up."

The group also offered a second map, which includes additional small reserves next to Santa Barbara Island and north of Santa Cruz Island. But sportfishermen refused to endorse that map.

The group is expected to make its recommendation final at a meeting next month in Santa Barbara after the maps are reviewed by its science and socioeconomic panels.

Although advisory, the group's recommendation is expected to be influential with the state Fish and Game Commission, which is expected to begin making its decision in August.

The advisory board members will take the maps back to their constituencies for comment. But Sean Hastings, resource protection coordinator for Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary, said he didn't expect the maps to change much at the next meeting.

The no-fishing zones are within the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary boundary, 1,252 nautical acres around the northern islands. Scientists say the ban would help replenish dwindling fish stocks.

Wednesday's all-day meeting, which at times seemed on the verge of bogging down in disagreements, continued long-standing differences between fishermen and conservationists.

Many fishermen believe migrating fish should not be off-limits, but conservationists believe in order to protect an entire ecosystem--including kelp forests, rocky reefs and a diversity of sea life--huge swaths of the ocean must be set aside.

A scientific panel recommended 30% to 50% of the sanctuary be set aside and said anything less would not meet conservation goals of bringing back fish stocks and preserving habitat.

If a decision is not reached at its next meeting, the group won't be able to supply a recommendation and instead would only give a qualified discussion of its position on the issue. In that case, the Fish and Game Commission would make its decision without a recommendation from the group.

But after 20 months of discussions, some group members said the day was a major accomplishment, even if nearly everyone left upset.

"In my view, at the end of the day, we've made some real progress," said Patricia Wolf of the Department of Fish and Game. "The really hard parts happen at the end."

The prevailing mood, however, was still one of frustration.

"It's got some major gaps," said Greg Helms of the Center for Marine Conservation. "[Fishermen are] saying, 'We'll give you what we don't use. [Conservationists are] saying, 'We need what you use.' It's a fundamental roadblock."

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Proposed No-Fishing Zones

A group of conservation, fishing and regulatory representatives is working on a plan to establish no-fishing zones around the Channel Islands.

Source: Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary

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