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Editorial: New rules are uncharted waters

December 16, 2010

In a highly anticipated decision, the California Fish & Game Commission this week approved a strict set of new rules for what can and cannot take place on the shores and in the coastal waters off of Southern California, from Santa Barbara to the Mexican border. The rules, mandated by the decade old Marine Life Protection Act, are designed to conserve sea life and preserve the marine environment. But the commission's 3-2 vote shows that not all are convinced of the need or efficacy of such rules.

Early on in the process, the Laguna Beach City Council endorsed a citywide "no take zone" in the city and from what we can see in the maze of restrictions, that is essentially what the commission approved.

The complex set of rules delineates which types of sea life may be taken from coastal waters. But it's not so complicated in Laguna Beach: there will be a total ban on all fishing, lobstering, taking of squid, or even throwing a fishing line in the water from shore. Period.

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Boaters will have to avoid the off-shore conservation area at night, because they may not even be anchored in the zone for any reason.

Ironically, following efforts over the past few years to restore the kelp beds, a fleet of commercial squid fishing boats have been seen congregating at night lately off the shoreline, activities which will soon be largely off limits to them.

Laguna Beach was promoted as the linchpin of restoration of marine life in Southern California because of its coves and tide pools, which serve as nurseries and hatcheries for all kinds of animals. It is predicted that protecting Laguna Beach waters will promote healthier populations of fish and shellfish in other areas.

On the other side of the equation, the quiet coves and rocky points in Laguna were especially accessible to solo or smalltime fishers, who will now have to fish from the beaches in Crystal Cove or Dana Point or go even further away from Laguna Beach.

Other areas in the state will have even stricter regulations. In Goleta, for example, parts of the shoreline may be off limits to wading, swimming and boating. If those types of regulations were to come to Laguna Beach, the tourism industry would take quite a hit.

The regulations are to have a five-year life span, after which the state will determine whether the health of the marine environment has improved enough to warrant going back to the previous rules — which, in Laguna Beach, have been highly protective of the tidepools for many years.

The Marine Life Protection Act and its regulations are uncharted territory in marine environmentalism. We hope that the benefits outweigh the costs for local recreational use of the shoreline.

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