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California’s coastline controversy

Obviously they have to be a legal size so….legal! Just days before a sweeping new law came into effect, making it illegal to fish these southern California waters, Rodger Healy was in a hurry.

What’s about Treasury? Can you tell me? We’re off uh…they call it Montage now but it used to be Treasure Island, Treasure Island Point. It’s the south boundary of what will be a future closed area of Laguna Beach.

Fishermen are enraged by the new laws which create a series of marine reserves. The reserves close off some 15% of the southern California coastline, from Point Conception to the U.S. / Mexico border to all fishing.

I tend to lose probably about sixty to sixty-five percent of the area I fish and depending on the year it’s probably about seventy-five percent of my income. Most of us got into lobster fishing because we saw a future in it. I mean we saw the ability for you know, a sustainable fishery that you can harvest until you want to retire and then pass it on to somebody else. Unfortunately it doesn’t look like that’s the way it’s gonna be.

Mike Thompson: We’re not happy, we’re not happy about it at all. But would you be happy if somebody came along and told you that something you’ve been doing all of your life and been obeying the laws in place that you can’t do it anymore?

Mike Thompson runs Newport Landings Sportfishing. He believes that the process used by the state to create the marine reserves was slanted to favor the conservationists. Thompson: What the environmentalists wanted to take, they wanted to take it all. They wanted to leave us nothing.

Greg Helms: Well we think it’s historic, we think its you know, every cliché. We think this is a major step forward for marine conservation. It allows, it transforms marine management such as we have areas for the fist time in the ocean that are set aside for the eco system, for the intrinsic value of fish and for the people who want to experience those fish in their natural state, in their natural abundance.

Conservationists and some scientists say that these new laws place California at the forefront of a growing global trend towards much stricter marine conservation. They see the effort as the last hope to restore threatened marine ecosystems.

Helms: No other state has attempted this, nor has any state tried to set up as exhaustive and detailed the process. It’s a national first and we know that other states, other places around the world are watching. Other states like Florida have created marine reserves as well. But what’s unusual about the California approach is the size and the scope of the reserves. Even beach combers will not be able to take home a souvenir shell.

Ray Hiemstra: It’s a big change for California, up until now we’ve had about less than one percent of our coast was protected in any way, shape or form and this was going to really expand that so we’ll have ecosystem protection. It’s something new. Rather than fish size limits, seasons, things like that, our traditional stuff. It’s a big change and it should be a big boost to our marine life. It’ll create areas where they can recover and we can hopefully in a number of years see the types of populations that we saw far in the past.

The reserves were mandated as part of the 1999 Marine Life Protection Act. Miles of coastline in northern and central California have already been set aside. But it took years for the various stake holders in this densely populated area of the state to agree on what and where the reserves should be.

In the end many people felt that their voices were not heard and they feel mistreated. We’re the bad people I guess, we’re the villains in this whole deal. Now business people like Mike Thompson who represented fishermen in the negotiations are beginning to feel the pinch.

Thompson: For the half day boat, the boat that fishes closest to home here, which is probably our, you know, the biggest money maker, we lost about thirty percent of our area which is the Laguna Beach area.

While some people question the effectiveness of marine reserves to restore fish populations, conservationists and scientists point to what has happened at the nearby Channel Islands. A once popular fishery that implemented a series of strict marine reserves in 2003.

David Kushner: The differences inside the reserve and outside is so dramatic. If you’re swimming underwater it’s pretty easy to see the difference, where you see larger fish such as sheephead and kelp bass and ocean whitefish and large lobsters. Immediately on swimming outside the reserve those fish are all of a sudden smaller and there’s fewer of them.

Russell Galipeau: I think the science is there, I believe that we use the most reliable science and the best available science possible.

In the decades following Word War II commercial and sport fishing exploded here and several fish populations crashed. The state hopes that a decade or more of no fishing will restore these populations. They also hope that other, lower impact activities will thrive.

Debbie Karimoto: Most divers are really looking forward to their favorite diving spots being protected. In the meantime, businessmen like Mike Thompson who depend on the ocean are trying to find other ways to get by.

Thompson: We still have all this equipment that we can’t let it sit idle so we got to find things to do with it so we’re getting more into whale watching and harbor cruises, burials at sea…just, you know, Christmas parade stuff, whatever it takes, whatever it takes to make a buck. You know you got to do something, can’t just sit there and watch your business die. This is Eric Olsen reporting from Laguna Beach, Califonia.

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