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Fishermen discuss no-take zones

August 4, 2007 by Cornelia de Bruin, The Daily Triplicate 

Commercial and recreational fishermen from Southern Oregon and Northern California had a lot to say about their states' positions on Marine Protected Areas Friday.

Such areas—mandated in California and encouraged in Oregon—create no-take zones in the Pacific Ocean.

The fishermen met to discuss the politically hot issue during a meeting of Klamath Management Zone Fisheries Coalition at Crescent City Harbor.

They are expressing their sentiments in letters to both states' governments.

The issues cross the states' boundary, which does not extend into the ocean from which fishermen make their livings.

Although their lives are similar, the politics the fishermen face are fundamentally different.

California has mandated that Marine Protected Zones be established to counter what the state's government terms an overfishing problem.

"The drive in California comes from the Marine Life Protection and Marine Life Management acts, but having a mandated network is not about fishing management," said Crescent City Harbor Master Richard Young. "So far the fishing people and the Harbor Masters are disappointed with the outcome."

Young explained that fishermen in locations where such areas were recently established feel that places they suggested be designated were bypassed during the decision process.

Those who made the final decisions, he added, were "driven by the Marine Life Protection Act and its Blue Ribbon Committee."

Although the two groups say that the established areas impact only 18 percent of the ocean's fishing areas, Young added, in reality they comprise "about half of the fish producing area."

Oregon, however, has no mandate to establish the areas. Instead, the fishermen say, Gov. Ted Kulongoski wants his legacy to be the creation of "wilderness areas" in the Pacific.

"Oregon has a Marine Cabinet that advises the governor, and it is comprised of agency people," said Curry County Commission Chairwoman Lucie La Bonté. "Fishermen are scared that some environmentalist in Portland (Ore.) will made the final decision."

Local fishermen say that the Northern California-Southern Oregon waters are the best-managed fishing areas of the Pacific shoreline.

That is why, they add, no reason to protect the fish exists.

"Most of our fish stocks are pretty healthy. There is no overfishing going on," Young said. "The five or six overfished stocks are being rebuilt."

Nonetheless, with mandates in place, and heading north toward the Klamath Zone west of both areas' coastlines, fishermen say that local economics and impacts of the impending decisions "don't matter" to those in place.

"These groups are funded by Pew and Packard Corporation," Oregon Coalition Representative Jim Welter said. "We've got the governors of three states talking about making the whole coast a protected zone when there's no proof that the zones will stop the process."

He referred to the Pew Charitable Trust and Hewlett-Packard Corporation.

If the issue goes to voters in Oregon, added recreational fisherman Richard Heap of Brookings, "the public will vote emotionally and in an uninformed way."

Added Commissioner La Bonté, "That's why we need to have public education. Why not have some fishing in the marine areas? Even in wilderness ares there is some hunting."

Aaron Longton of Port Orford, Ore. Board President of the three-years-plus-old Port Orford Ocean Resource Team to have influence in the creation of Marine Protected Areas.

"Where does the path of inaction take us," he said. "We've gained some notoriety in the circles of people who could make our lives miserable."

The groups plan to continue honing their strategies as they work to beef up their political clout.

Oregon fisherman Jim Relaford acknowledged the twin needs. "The people who are making the political decisions ... have more clout than those who don't know how to mobilize," he said.

But as they fine-tune their tactics, Harbor Master Young offered one caveat:

"Don't ever underestimate the degree of ignorance that's out there," Young said. "It's like ‘The Emperor's New Clothes,' people don't realize that we don't have an overfishing problem here."

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