Fishing community opposes extension of ‘no-take’ zone to South Laguna – Orange County Register

Erika I. Ritchie

A petition has been submitted to state wildlife officials to expand the protected areas off Laguna Beach that prohibit the “taking” of sea life, including commercial and recreational fishing, to include all of the city’s shoreline.

But those who make a living from the sea are against an expansion and say enough of the coastline is already off-limits.

California has dozens of Marine Protected Areas along its coast, which were created a decade ago to help limit the impact of humans and their activities and allow the underwater world the chance to recover. Recent studies of how the coastal reserves have done in the last decade – some strictly prohibit the taking of sea life, some allow it – indicate significant rebounding and progress, state wildlife officials have said.

Laguna Beach is the only city in the state with all of its coastline designated Marine Protect Areas, or MPAs, but the waters off South Laguna allow for fishing.  Now given the success seen with the MPA program, a group of environmentalists and South Laguna residents are hoping the California Fish and Game Commission will consider making all of Laguna Beach a “no-take” zone.

A decade of restrictions

Donna Kalez said she looks nearly everyday at a map hanging on the back of her office door that shows the coastline between Dana Point and Los Angeles and all the areas closed to fishing, including Laguna Beach’s coastline from Table Rock Beach to the northern city limits.

“I look at it every day to remind myself of where the closures are, and if anybody asks me questions, I point to the map,” said Kalez, who operates Dana Wharf Sportfishing and Whale Watching, the Dana Point Harbor’s oldest business, founded by her late father, Don Hansen, in 1971.

“It also reminds me of what we’ve lost and what we’ve adapted to,” she said. “When you keep adding up all the regulations, it’s getting harder and harder for us fishermen.”

The less than one mile of Laguna Beach coastline still open to recreational and commercial fishing is particularly appealing because it works well for half-day fishing trips, smaller charter boats and lobster fishing, Kalez said.  If the area becomes off-limits, she said it will have devastating consequences for her business and the public that recreationally fishes there now.

“The area they chose to close was a very successful fishing area for all involved,” said Kalez, who more than a decade ago was involved in the exhaustive discussions that went on for creating the MPAs. She continues to sit on the Orange County Marine Protected Area Council. “That’s what we agreed upon, and why do they now want more?”

The petition to change the restrictions off South Laguna was filed in late November by the Laguna Bluebelt Coalition after the Department of Fish and Wildlife released its 10-year review of the state’s MPAs. Researchers said they found there are more and larger fish present as the areas recover, that the kelp forest has become robust, and the water teems with sea creatures. They also said there appears to be a spillover benefit as fish and other sea life swim outside the boundaries of the protected areas.

Todd Mansur, a boat captain working for Kalez, said he fishes about 150 yards north of the boundary line, ensuring he stays away from the kelp canopies and the habitat they support.

“We put our anchors in the sand and we have our stern 10 to 20 yards from the ecosystem,” he said. “We want to fish in the direction the fish are pointed. That allows us not to interrupt the ecosystem, and our bait naturally goes with the currents.”

The area is bountiful because of the topography, which mimics the cliffs and hills above the shoreline. Fish caught there include bonito, sheepshead, barred sand bass and various other species.

Mansur, who’s spent his life on the ocean, said being able to fish that coastline along with the other side of the Dana Point Harbor toward San Clemente provides fishermen with options depending on the tides and currents.

“We need alternate areas to fish,” he said. “With these MPAs, they’re closing us into a postage stamp and keep squeezing us. It’s better for the ecosystem to have more variety.”

Donna Kalez, owner of Dana Wharf Sportfishing and Whale Watching in Dana Point, stands outside her shop on Wednesday, Dec. 27, 2023. Kalez supports the current fishing restrictions along the coast of southern Orange County but is opposed to any extension of the boundaries. (Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)

An ocean desert?

But those hoping the boundaries will be changed say the area has become depleted due to over-fishing, which is why they support the Laguna Bluebelt Coalition’s petition.

“If you go snorkeling in the MPA areas of Laguna, you see a lot of fish and kelp beds,” said Judy Yorke, a resident of Three Arch Bay, the southernmost community of South Laguna. “When you snorkel off Three Arch, it’s like a desert. It’s amazingly, strikingly different.”

Yorke, who has a view of the ocean from her home, said she’s seen an increase in the number of fishing boats, both commercial and recreational vessels, in recent years. She said there “must be a couple hundred” lobster trap buoys along the line that marks the boundaries of the no-take zone at Totuava Beach.

“There’s nothing wrong with fishing, except that its effect has been to create a sea life desert,” she said. “We need a break to see if the population rebounds. We’re trying to do the right thing; the state has seen a wonderful success. It would be wonderful if we could have the same, and then there will be more fish, but we can’t fish to the last fish.”

The Bluebelt petition also has support from the South Laguna Civic Association and the city. In a November letter signed by then-Mayor Bob Whalen, the city stated its “willingness to engage in future discussions regarding potential changes to the MPA boundaries in South Laguna.”

Mike Beanan, co-founder of the Laguna Bluebelt Coalition, a group that was instrumental in getting the MPAs in Laguna Beach more than a decade ago, said a boundary extension would create conformity in the city, especially regarding enforcement.

When the MPAs were first established, South Laguna was still under county jurisdiction. On March 1, an agreement between the county and city transferred jurisdiction to Laguna Beach.

“Our primary concern is equitable enforcement and restoration of our coastal ecosystem,” Beanan wrote in a letter to the California Fish and Game Commission accompanying the Bluebelt’s petition. “By aligning the MPA boundaries with the jurisdictional limits of Laguna Beach, enforcement efforts by lifeguards, police officers and park rangers will be more coordinated and effective.”

He also said conformity would help with public education and compliance with the restrictions and added that the city has received economic and environmental benefits from other areas of town where the “no-take” zones exist.

A hit to livelihoods

But those in the fishing community see potential harm to their prosperity and the public’s access to fish and wonder about reports of the area being over-fished.

“I’d like to see the scientific impact that says they are over-fished,” Kalez said, adding that closing down that section of the coast will make it impossible for her shorter 5-hour charter trips, including a Fish 4 Life charter she runs for children with special needs.

“Every single Fish 4 Life trip is to Three Arch Bay,” she said, adding that other options for locations along the coast are too far for them to travel. The program is catch-and-release and teaches the children about fishery conservation, she said.

Kalez said she has pushed with no success for “hook and line surveys” of South Laguna, which have been done in other areas by the California Collaborative Fisheries Research Program, a group involving researchers from six universities that provide scientific data for fisheries management.

Kalez said she began hearing rumblings about extending the no-take boundaries earlier this year. But the local council recommended “no change in Orange County,” so she wasn’t too concerned.

Calla Allison, director of the Orange County Marine Protected Area Council, said some people were strongly for and strongly opposed to expanding the boundaries in Laguna Beach during the discussions.  Because of that lack of consensus, OCMPAC decided to support the boundaries and regulations as they are, she said.

Shala Mansur-O’Keefe, who owns Jon’s Fish Market in Dana Point Harbor, said the boundary change would affect business at her restaurant if there are no more half-day charters.

“Those fishermen all come to Jon’s when they’re done,” Mansur-O’Keefe said. “When they come back, they come and get clam chowder. It stops the foot traffic.”

She also worries about those who sell product for her market, she said.

“Why is it more environmentally healthy to buy fish wrapped in plastic, trucked in from some distant place using fossil fuels to drive it here,” she said. “You have no idea where it was caught. Why would you even think about not eating your own coastal fish? If we had a gigantic fishery here, that would be another story. It’s a whisper. You’re taking livelihood away from people who are earning their keep the right way.”

Since the closures were put in place a decade ago, almost all of the lobster fishery has disappeared from the harbor, said lobster fisherman Rodger Healy, who has fished off the Orange County coastline for more than 30 years.

“We still haven’t recovered and we’ve lost half our fleet,” Healy said. “It’s greedy and egregious that they would ask for more after the size and scope of the area they got to start with. Where are we supposed to fish?”

“They spent millions of dollars and many years of negotiations to get where we are,” he added. “It’s opening up Pandora’s box.”

The Fish and Game Commission is expected to review petitions – some 20 were submitted asking for changes to the MPA program throughout the state – at its February meeting. At that point, commissioners will decide if they recommend approval or dismissal or if the petition will go to the Department of Fish and Wildlife for further analysis.

If restrictions were to change, it likely would not happen until 2025.

Erika I. Ritchie Environment,Local News,News,beaches,community,dana-point-harbor,Top Stories OCR

2024-01-04 22:59:18 , Laguna Beach News: The Orange County Register

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