State wildlife officials Wednesday narrowly approved a network of marine reserves along the Southern California coast.
The 3-2 vote in Santa Barbara by the California Fish and Game Commission bans or restricts fishing in dozens of protected marine areas designed to replenish depleted fish populations and protect marine life.
The regulations come more than a decade after state legislators passed the California Marine Life Protection Act, which was adopted in 1999 to establish a statewide, science-based system of sanctuaries within three miles of the shoreline.
The plan adopted Wednesday spans waters from Point Conception to the Mexican border and was the result of two years of contentious negotiations between recreational anglers and commercial fishing groups wary of losing territory and conservation groups pushing for strict curbs on fishing to preserve marine habitat.
California has led the nation in establishing marine reserves, an idea conceived in response to steep declines in recent decades in populations of rockfish, cod, lobster, abalone and other ocean dwellers despite catch limits and other fishing regulations.
Scientists who helped draft the plan argued that some species could disappear entirely without no-fishing zones in a diverse assortment of underwater canyons, kelp forests, sandy sea floor and rocky reefs.
Commissioner Richard B. Rogers voted for the plan, saying it struck an “elegant balance” between conservation and fishing interests.
“The overarching goal is to return California to the sustainable abundance I observed growing up,” the long-time scuba diver said.