La Jolla at forefront of marine reserve debate
by Claire Harlin
Published - 10/12/10 - 12:01 PM | 8534 views | 0 0 comments | 13 13 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Taken from an aerial tour sponsored by Lighthawk and Coastkeeper, a stakeholder in the process of drawing marine reserve boundaries, this photo shows La Jolla's southern coastline, bordered by a nine-square-mile proposed reserve. Photo by Claire Harlin
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LA JOLLA — Between the beaches of Windansea and Crystal Pier, extending three miles toward the depths of the Pacific, lies a marine wonder world. It's been referred to as an "underwater Yosemite," containing kelp forests as precious as endangered redwoods, a haven for hundreds of species.

This nine-square-mile proposed Marine Protected Area (MPA) has the attention of stakeholders nationwide, as it is one of three ocean areas in La Jolla that are up for review by the California Fish and Game Commission — which could decide this fall to entirely eradicate fishing in parts of those areas to comply with the 1999 Marine Life Protection Act, which requires the state to reevaluate and redesign California's system of MPAs.

The commission will hear public testimony on the issue at 10 a.m. on Oct. 20 at the Four Points Sheraton hotel, located at 8110 Aero Drive.

“The world’s eyes are on this process,” said Kate Hanley, director of operations for Coastkeeper, an environmental advocacy organization. “People are looking into MPAs all over the world, and California could be a role model.”

Also being considered in La Jolla is an area extending south from Scripps Pier to the projection between Casa Beach and La Jolla Cove, whose protection laws stand to be expanded from a "marine conservation area," which allows for some fishing, to a "marine reserve,” which allows for any kind of swimming, diving or boating but absolutely no extraction — fishing — of any kind.

An area north of Scripps Pier is also being proposed as a "marine conservation area."

These designations are part of a plan called the Integrated Preferred Alternative (IPA). Created by a governor-appointed, seven-member blue ribbon task force (BRTF), the plan is a “compromise” of three different proposals produced by a 60-member stakeholder group that includes experts, municipalities, fishermen and environmentalists. A science advisory team (SAT) worked with the task force and stakeholder group throughout the process, with the purpose of providing scientific recommendations and identifying which areas would be best to protect in order to save ecosystems in their entirety.

In drawing proposed boundaries of protected areas, Hanley said the science advisory team suggested that a properly functioning ecosystem needs at least nine square miles to operate, free of extraction. For example, she said that's the amount of space needed for fish to become large enough to reproduce to their full potential. The area south of La Jolla is currently protected up to seven square miles, so the IPA would extend those boundaries two more miles.

While environmentalists say that move would make La Jolla even more of a hot spot for diving, a multibillion-dollar industry, stakeholders on a different side of the multi-faceted argument say it would hurt another multibillion dollar industry — sport fishing.

An angler's angle

Bob Brown is a spokesman for the Southern California Marine Association, one of the 60 stakeholders who presented proposals to the BRTF. He said there are challenges to interpreting the scientific recommendations at play and the IPA that the BRTF came up with is a “concoction” that doesn’t accurately represent stakeholders’ proposals.

“They call it making sausage,” he said. “There’s been a lot of discussion with the stakeholders, a lot of volunteer hours put in, but nobody was listening.”

If the IPA is accepted, he said, there will be a congestion of anglers in a very small area, which will present safety issues and “cause more harm than good.”

Brown said he foresees the issue becoming law because he thinks it’s high on state officials’ to-do list. He said Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger wants to “get this done before he leaves office.”

“It looks like there’s this crusade to get things done in an unreasonable amount of time,” said Brown. “And there’s no compromise thats that's going to make everyone happy.”

Paul Lebowitz, editor of Kayak Angler Magazine and a spokesman for the Kayak Fishing Association of California, was also involved in stakeholder meetings to fight for the interests of kayak fishermen, who he said are already low on options when it comes to practicing their sport.

Lebowitz, a San Diegan who’s been kayaking in La Jolla for years, said La Jolla Shores is not only the busiest launch spot in the world for kayak fishermen, but one of only three spots along the California coast where kayakers can safely get on the water without dangerous winds. The other two locations are Malibu and Dana Point.

While he said the IPA is somewhat of a compromise — environmental stakeholders, he said, would shut fishers entirely out of La Jolla if they had their way — there are some safety issues that would arise if MPAs are expanded.

Right now, kayak fishers in La Jolla paddle out a half-mile to fish outside the reserve, and if the IPA is enacted they will have to paddle out two-thirds of a mile. Lebowitz is not only concerned that this would cram fishers close together, but having to paddle farther out may cause novice kayak fishers to get swept up in dangerous currents, making it hard to get back to shore.

“People just getting in to this sport may not have the skill, strength or judgment to know when to be careful,” he said.

Lebowitz also said there is no provision in the proposal that would require replacement of signs and buoys that indicate reserve borders, and that may be something that the city or private entities will have to fund. He said there is also a mural painted on the pavement at the park near the launch at Avenida de la Playa that shows the boundaries, which he said La Jollans are familiar with because they have been in place for years.

Lebowitz said he can’t even speculate as to how things will turn out for kayak fishermen.

“I just know that most of the time this issue has been portrayed as the environmentalists versus the fisherman,” he said. “But the issue is so much more complex than that.”

A new twist

Earlier this month, a California Superior Court judge issued a ruling stating that the BRTF and SAT are state agencies and therefore subject to state open records laws. The court said those entities, who had been working behind closed doors, must share information with angling and conservation groups.

The ruling was in response to a lawsuit filed on behalf of Robert C. Fletcher, former president of the Sportfishing Association of California, who had requested records of the decision-making process. The court declared that records be released by Oct. 10, and some stakeholders are predicting a push at the Oct. 21 hearing to invalidate all BRTF decisions thus far.

After MPA boundaries are drawn in Southern California, then hearings on proposed areas in Northern California will begin. Stakeholders say Southern California is the most controversial, as it is the most used, and other regions in the state may look to this region as a precedent for decision-making.

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