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Panel delays vote on Southern California fishing restrictions

After hearing heated debate from conservationists, fishermen and businesses, the blue-ribbon panel will vote in mid-November on fishing rules for the 250-mile coastline from Santa Barbara to Mexico.

October 23, 2009|Louis Sahagun

A state blue-ribbon panel failed to reach agreement Thursday on proposed fishing restrictions for the 250-mile Southern California coastline after a marathon hearing that had environmentalists sparring with fishing interests over control of slivers of beach and ocean habitat.

The five-member panel, meeting in Long Beach, had been expected to recommend a patchwork of no-fishing zones designed to restore the health and abundance of marine life between Santa Barbara and the Mexican border.

But the effort was slowed when conservationists, commercial fishing interests, recreational anglers, business leaders and divers became locked in tugs-of-war over areas that fishermen say are prime trawling spots and that conservationists say are habitats critical to replenishing the surrounding seas.

One area of concern is the wind-swept far side of Santa Catalina Island, where the water is plied by white sea bass and marlin, and trawlers haul up tons of squid in a night.

Other contentious areas include Point Dume, Laguna Beach, La Jolla and areas off the Palos Verdes Peninsula, where kelp forests and deep rocky bottoms are havens for bass and lobster.

After a seven-hour session, the panel decided to postpone voting on a recommended Marine Protection Area for Southern California.

Panel chairwoman Catherine Reheis-Boyd requested a scientific evaluation of various proposals from both groups. She said the panel would meet in Los Angeles in mid-November to hammer out a final recommendation, which would be forwarded to the state Fish and Game Commission for final approval.

Conservationists complained Thursday that the panel seemed hesitant to adopt proposals that could have significant economic impacts on commercial fishing interests and recreational anglers.

"We're letting an opportunity of a lifetime slip through our fingers because politics is triumphing over conservation," said Steve Benevides, cofounder of the Kelp Forest Coalition.

"I'm sorry. But the reason we are here is because there are not enough fish and too many people," he said.

But panelist Gregory F. Schem warned early on, "No doubt, whatever we do here today will have a very substantial economic effect on a lot of people."

Bob Bertelli, 62, a commercial fisherman for 25 years, agreed. He said the restrictions proposed by conservationists would "end commercial fishing as we know it. I'll have to find another career. But, then, a lot of people will be forced out of business."


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