A miles-long no-fishing zone off the Laguna coast appeared increasingly likely this week as a state-sponsored environmental initiative to protect sea life moved into the homestretch in Southern California.
Three final proposals for the creation of new marine-protected areas from Point Conception to the Mexican border were revealed Thursday night in Los Angeles in the last of a series of marathon public meetings.
All three proposed maps marked out a significant portion of the Laguna coast in red, meaning off-limits to fishing — even the map drawn up by a group composed largely of fishing interests.
“That was a convergence spot,” Ray Hiemstra, of the environmental group, Orange County Coastkeeper, said of the Laguna coast.
And the three maps glimpsed Thursday won’t be made public for as long as two weeks (see portions of the maps in a video archive of meetings held Wednesday and Thursday.)
Still, a variety of new restrictions on ocean fishing off the Southern California coast appeared all but inevitable. The Laguna Beach coast has emerged as one of the most significant habitat areas targeted for protection in the region.
The mapping effort is the third of its kind under the Marine Life Protection Act Initiative, a state law passed in 1999 and revived in recent years with the help of funding from habitat conservation groups such as the Resource Legacy Foundation. Marine protected areas have been approved on the north central coast and the central coast under the public-private partnership; the San Francisco Bay area and the north coast are next on the list.
The idea is to prevent depletion of marine life by creating a system of protected zones. Larvae of fish and other creatures could disperse from one zone to the next, while a variety of species and habitats could thrive in each zone. A variety of new designations are possible, some that would limit fishing and others that would ban it altogether.
While protection zones already exist off the coast, some experts say they are often disjointed, with some too small to be effective. Part of the effort would consolidate existing reserves and arrange them to function as a network.
The “stakeholder” group that produced the maps this week has been working together for about a year. The group will meet once more with a blue-ribbon task force to refine the maps; in December, the task force is expected to present either one map, or several maps with one marked as the preferred version, to the Fish and Game Commission for what could be a lengthy approval process.
The stakeholders divided themselves into three mapping groups that neatly illustrate three prevailing sentiments: a mixed group representing a variety of interests, a group dominated by the fishing community and other “users” of ocean resources, and a group dominated by environmental activists and conservationists.
R. Kevin Ketchum, general manager of California Yacht Marina and a leader of a mapping group that included strong representation by fishing interests, said he does not believe scientific evidence shows that fish along the Southern California coast are being depleted.
“The fisheries in California are the most protected worldwide,” Ketchum said. But the initiative is “a law. So it had to be done.”
(Register photo of Laguna coast by Leonard Ortiz.)