Oregon: State panel moving toward network of marine reserves
By Associated Press
The Daily News

 GRANTS PASS, Ore. (AP) -8/17/02-- After two years of study, a state advisory panel is ready to embark on an even longer process to establish a network of marine preserves to protect ocean fish habitat.

Mindful of the resistance underwater wilderness has met in California, the Ocean Policy Advisory Council votes Friday on a recommendation to the governor to move slowly and carefully toward putting a small fraction of Oregon's territorial waters off limits to fishing, to see how it works.

If approved, as it likely will be, the process will take three to five years to hear from fishermen, environmentalists, scientists, coastal communities and others before establishing just how much of the three-mile-wide strip of state waters along Oregon's 360-mile coastline to protect, said Bob Bailey, ocean program administrator.

"We have a lot more homework to do," said Bailey. "No areas have been determined. It's 360 miles of coast. To zoom in on a more local level is just gong to take awhile. Partly we don't have a lot of money to do it, so we have to go slow."

But supporters of marine reserves are in more of a hurry, primarily because the inshore waters controlled by the state will see increased fishing pressure as federal authorities push fishing boats off the Continental Shelf to protect dwindling populations of groundfish.

"Why not identify some relatively non-controversial sites we can begin with, because a lot can happen in 10 years," said Avalyn Taylor of the Audubon Society of Portland, which is pressing for marine reserves.

The Pacific Fishery Management Council meets next month in Portland to set the 2003 ocean fishing seasons, and is likely to put the bulk of the Continental Shelf off limits to boats chasing groundfish, which have been declared overfished. That pushes more recreational and commercial boats into the nearshore waters controlled by the state.

But Oregon does not want to make the mistake of going too fast, as California did, and lose the trust of fishermen and coastal communities, said Bailey. That's why the advisory council has specifically avoided saying how much water should be protected in reserves.

Fishermen in Port Orford, home to a fleet of about 30 small boats that fish primarily on the Port Orford Reef for groundfish, crab and other species, are divided.

Mike "Cappy" Ashdown, skipper of the Friendship, would be willing to give up the stretch of coastline between Battle Rock and Rocky Point as a marine reserve, as long as it was used for extensive research.

"It has sand bottom, mud bottom, rock and kelp," he said recently standing on the dock. "Everything lives there. It could be enforced just observing from the shoreline."

But Scott Mecum, skipper of the Providence, is not willing to give up anything more than he has already lost to declining harvest quotas and markets lost to foreign suppliers.

"There's a crab lay there at 9 fathoms," he told Ashdown. "You going to give that up?"

"If I have to give something up," replied Ashdown.

"We don't have to give them anything," said Mecum.

"What they might do is take the whole (Port Orford) reef away from you," said Ashdown.

"If you make it too easy, they just put it to you," said Mecum.

"It's like arguing with your wife," said Ashdown. "Eventually, you've got to reconcile."

Pushing the whole process is the 1977 Land Conservation and Development Act, best known for protecting farm and forest land in Oregon and limiting urban sprawl. But one provision known as Goal 19 calls for sustaining marine resources by protecting essential fish habitats.

For that reason, the process is unlikely to be derailed, no matter who succeeds Gov. John Kitzhaber, Bailey said.

Washington set up some marine reserves to protect the San Juan Islands from overfishing, and California established some primarily for research, but until the last few years, Oregon has not seen a need, Bailey added.

However, there is growing evidence that reserves would help stop the kinds of fishery collapses seen in groundfish by giving fish a refuge and protecting habitat from damage from fishing gear.

The National Academy of Sciences issued a report last March recommending federal fisheries management councils that regulate ocean fishing start designating marine reserves in federal waters.

The regional councils have yet to establish any marine reserves of their own.

"We think the process that has been laid out -- the feds could benefit from following it, too," said Bailey

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