Debate over protection of marine life

April 22, 2008 10:09:10 AM PDT
The state of California is considering new protection for marine life - specifically in the vast stretch of coastline from Half Moon Bay up to Mendocino County.

The governor's Blue Ribbon Task Force is meeting in San Rafael today and tomorrow to discuss which plan to recommend. Environmentalists, fishermen, surfers and everybody involved in this debate want what is best for the marine life off Northern California. They just can't agree on what exactly 'best' means.

Josh Churchman has been fishing the waters off of Bolinas in Marin County for decades. But he says government overregulation could put an end to that.

"There were 20 commercial fishermen here in 1988, 20 commercial fisherman full time, now there's three," said Josh Churchman, Bolinas fisherman.

The Marine Life Protection Act of 1999 requires a level of protection and three plans are under consideration. Churchman, already stung by the cancellation of salmon season, favors the one that is least restrictive on fishing. The one that allows fishing closer to shore, the one he says that might allow him to stay in business.

"A good boat gets two miles to the gallon. So do the math, make me go 15 miles out of my way so that I can find an open area, you've made me burn a whole lot of extra fuel and decreased my safety," said Churchman.

"The concern about impacting fishermen has been used to modify and reduce protection for years and it's really time to take a different course," said Karen Garrison, Natural Resources Defense Council.

The Natural Resources Defense Council says that different course would mean the most restrictive of the three plans. It would prohibit fishing in huge tracts off the coast and restrict it severely in others.

"Our plan includes areas of high quality habitat, areas that are nursery grounds for fish, areas that are centers of productivity and those are the kinds of areas that can really make sure that we have healthy ocean ecosystems in the future," said Garrison.

Also in on the debate is the Partnership for Sustainable Oceans, which says the Defense Council's plan would devastate the state's one billion dollar recreational fishing industry.

"The party boats that operate out of San Francisco, Emeryville and Sausalito and further up the coast would all be in trouble because of the restricted regulations that would go in place and I think that ripples back into the bait shops and the tackle shops," said Dan Wohlford, Partnership for Sustainable Oceans.

Everyone says all sides favor protection. The difference is in the degree of protection.

"We've had Yosemite and Yellowstone land for decades and we are all very proud of those places, but we're playing catch up in the ocean," said Garrison.

"How many layers of protection do you need to support what already is the richest ocean?" asked said Churchman.

That's the question and we already have an idea of what the answer might be. Last year, the Blue Ribbon Panel approved a plan to protect 1,100 square miles off Central California from Santa Barbara up to Pigeon Point. The plan approved was the most restrictive on the table.


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