Fishing or lobster catching off most of Laguna Beach could soon be illegal.
Six miles of Laguna Beach could be declared a “no-take” zone for any form of marine life under a recommendation approved Tuesday by the Marine Life Protection Act Blue Ribbon Task Force.
If the task force proposal for a state marine reserve is adopted by the Fish and Game Commission, the coast from Crystal Cove State Park to Aliso Beach would be off-limits to fishermen from the beach to about three miles out to sea, according to MLPA Initiative spokeswoman Annelore Reisewitz.
That would leave a 1-mile stretch of South Laguna where fishing would be allowed.
The commission will meet Dec. 9 and 10 in Los Angeles to consider adopting the recommended Southern California Marine Life Protection Act zones, Reisewitz said.
“It’s been a long, difficult process and we can be proud of our commitment to restore our coastal habitats and fisheries,” Laguna Beach resident Charlotte Masarik, an advocate for the reserve said in a news release from Laguna Bluebelt. “Businesses in Laguna will benefit from the increased tourism attracted by a flourishing ‘Bluebelt.’”
The City Council — minus Mayor Kelly Boyd — voted in June that all seven miles of the city’s coastline should become a state marine reserve, the most restrictive designation in the Marine Life Protection Act.
Marine environmentalists say the coastline off Laguna Beach is extremely valuable as a breeding-ground and deserves the highest level of protection.
Councilwoman Toni Iseman, who has championed the all-city marine reserve designation, said she is satisfied with the plan.
“I’m delighted that we got the six miles we did,” Iseman said.
“Despite the sometimes contentious debate, only 8% to 10% of the South Coast was closed to fishing,” Laguna Bluebelt, which has been lobbying for the marine reserve designation, said in its news release. “The marine reserve designated by the Blue Ribbon panel for Laguna is the minimum size required for the successful reestablishment of the fisheries.
“It is one of the six ‘backbone’ reserves created in the South Coast area in order to achieve optimal success. The panel clarified once again that activities in a marine reserve such as walking on the beach, snorkeling and diving, boating, surfing and all manner of activities will still be allowed and that public access will not be affected.”
Crystal Cove, Laguna Beach south of Aliso Beach and Dana Point are recommended as marine conservation areas, where it would be legal to fish and catch lobsters or other marine animals.
The proposed regulations are complex.
For Abalone Cove, a “high” level of protection is proposed, banning taking of living marine life except for “the recreational take of pelagic [open sea as opposed to ocean bottom] finfish by spearfishing; Pacific bonito by spearfishing; and market squid by dip net;” and “the commercial take of Pacific bonito by Pelagic round haul nets; coastal pelagic finfish by Pelagic round haul nets; market squid by pelagic round haul nets; market squid by dip net; and swordfish by harpoon.”
For Crystal Cove, “moderate to low” regulations prohibit “the take of all living marine resources except: the recreational take of lobster by hoop net; lobster by diving; urchin by diving; finfish by hook and line; and finfish by spearfishing;” and “commercial take of lobster by trap; urchin by diving; coastal pelagic finfish by pelagic round haul nets; and market squid by pelagic round haul nets.”
Boyd said he plans to continue to campaign against the “no-take” proposal in hopes that the Fish and Game Commission will not approve the recommendation.
Boyd supports a less-restrictive option proposed by the fishing community that would earmark a portion of the Laguna Beach coastline as a no-take zone but leave a substantial amount of the coast open to fishing.
“This will affect the economy of Laguna Beach, and especially the lobstermen,” he said.
Boyd said he has collected more than 1,900 signatures from residents in support of the fishermen’s proposal.
“The fight has just begun,” he said. “I’m working with the United Anglers of California.”
The Marine Life Protection Act designations will be re-evaluated every five years to see if they are working, and if not, restrictions could be altered, Reisewitz said.
Boyd said he does not believe the state would ever remove a restriction once it has been put in place.
Unlike a marine conservation area, a state marine reserve designation allows the imposition of restrictions on most beach uses, including walking, swimming and surfing, to protect the marine environment.
But those types of restrictions would only be imposed in rare instances, according to Ray Heimstra, of Orange County Coast Keeper, a Newport Beach firm involved with marine environmental advocacy.
“The ability to impose these restrictions is only in the law to allow for what are called ‘special closures’ to protect a very limited set of places such as marine mammal rookeries or important nesting sites for endangered birds,” Heimstra said. “None of these places exist in the South Coast area and no special closures were considered.”
Heimstra is a member of the local stakeholder group that created the initial proposals for the MLPA Initiative.
Reisewitz said the Department of Fish and Game would be responsible for enforcing the restrictions, but cities or the federal government could help if the state is unable to patrol the areas.
For information about the Marine Life Protection Act, visit www.dfg.ca.gov/mlpa.
For more information about Laguna Bluebelt, visit lagunabluebelt.com.