State to further restrict fishing

The state Fish and Game Commission voted Wednesday to ban or restrict fishing in about 20% of state waters along the North-Central coast to rejuvenate marine ecosystems.

Conservationists hailed the measure as a chance to lead the nation in creating a network of underwater state parks, while fishermen said it would threaten their businesses in a time of economic hardship.

The plan had been in the works for 10 years after the passage of the state Marine Life Protection Act, which mandated the creation of a network of restricted fishing areas.

Protected areas have already been established along the Central Coast, the first of five regions to be examined. A plan is in the works for Southern California. The protections apply only to state waters within three nautical miles of the coast.

Fishermen and conservationists had proposed alternative versions of the plan, but the one put forth by the Governor's Blue Ribbon Task Force triumphed on a 3-2 vote.

Commissioner Daniel W. Richards and President Jim Kellogg opposed the measure, saying the commission should first wait to judge the success of marine protected areas along the Central Coast. They also expressed doubt over whether the state could afford enforcement costs.

Supporters dismissed that concern. "Budgets come and budgets go, recessions come and recessions go," said Commissioner Michael Sutton. "What's going on here is more important than that."

Commissioner Richard B. Rogers called the measure "the single most important thing that I have ever done."

The tie-breaking vote was cast by Don Benninghoven, who was appointed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Tuesday after the resignation of the commission's president, Cindy Gustafson, last Friday.

Schwarzenegger voiced his approval of the decision.

Lisa Page, a spokeswoman, said, "It represents another milestone in California's leadership on oceans management and is the example of the kinds of outcomes that can be achieved by a collaborative process."

The plan takes effect Jan. 1.


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