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Editorial:

Devil in the details

December 11, 2009

And so we wait.

The future of the coast off of Laguna Beach has moved behind the scenes with the completion of a public process for the Marine Life Protection Act. The state Fish and Game Commission received testimony Wednesday on the Blue Ribbon Task Force-approved proposal for a partial “no-take” zone in Laguna, but did not make a final decision.

While the gears of government turn, we want to make it clear: A sweeping ban off Laguna — when even Crystal Cove would remain open — is clearly inappropriate. For some, fishing is a treasured recreational activity, and for many locals it is a livelihood.

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The MLPA process has been rife with controversy in Laguna Beach, after recreational fishermen and commercial lobstermen realized they were about to lose the long-held right to fish in the coves and reef points off of the city.

The process has been a winding one, with multiple stakeholder proposals, a political lobbying campaign on all sides, and a lot of heat but very little light on the subject of what measures will really help the marine environment.

Of three stakeholder proposals put before the Blue Ribbon Task Force in October, the most restrictive — a citywide no-take zone — was the one that had the backing of most elected officials here. Early support from the Laguna Beach City Council for a citywide ban on fishing was prompted by a coalition of groups organized under the name Laguna Bluebelt, including environmental groups and Village Laguna.

In June, the council voted 4 to 1 to support a citywide no-take zone, before the first public meeting on the MLPA was even held. This preemptive strike by the council majority did not sit well with many who were not privy to the rationale behind such a drastic proposal.

Then-Mayor Kelly Boyd, who grew up on the ocean and often goes out fishing locally, refused to sign the council-supported letter on the matter and began organizing the opposition.

The argument got so out of hand that the issue of name-calling became an amusing sidelight as letter-writers debated whether the mayor was or was not called a “fish slaughterer” by one marine reserve proponent, and what indeed would be meant by such a term. It was all great sport for those on the sidelines, but this comedic relief belies the seriousness of what is at stake.

Since then, the pro-fishing community has gotten its message out loud and clear, and a “compromise” no-take zone was hammered out by the Blue Ribbon Task Force leaving open a relatively inaccessible portion of South Laguna coastline including the private beach of Three Arch Bay. That is the one that Fish and Game will evidently be putting through the California Environmental Quality Act test.

The devil is in the details, and the details won’t be forthcoming for quite some time.

In the meantime, one can still go and cast a line off Laguna.


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