Marine reserves sought
Governor proposes 25,000 square miles off Oregon Coast for marine sanctuaries
Herald and News 4/22/07
GRANTS PASS (AP) — Inspired by California’s expansion of marine reserves, Gov. Ted Kulongoski has put aside a proposal to nominate the entire Oregon Coast as a national marine sanctuary, and wants to protect a smaller network of state waters instead.
In a letter this week to the Ocean Policy Advisory Committee, Kulongoski said he had w a t c h e d ‘‘with interest’’ California’s recent designation of 29 new marine reserves, and asked the panel to recommend places to protect within Oregon’s three-mile limit and a process for that considers the desires of the public and state and federal agencies.
The governor added he had proposed making 25,000 square miles off the Oregon Coast part of the national marine sanctuary system because he is committed to protecting Oregon waters as an ‘‘interconnected ecosystem,’’ and wants the council to keep that goal in mind as it develops a proposal.
The proposal would have allowed commercial and recreational fishing, but not oil and gas drilling.
As prospects increase that wave energy facilities and offshore aquaculture will be developed off Oregon, Kulongoski wants to be sure the state can control management of state waters within three miles of the coastline, and have a say in federal waters beyond, said Mike Carrier, the governor’s natural resources adviser.
The council recommended against creating a national marine sanctuary off Oregon, noting that most of it would be in federal waters, where Oregon would have little authority to regulate sport and commercial fishing, a prime bone of contention on designating marine reserves.
The toughest issue facing the governor is how much commercial and recreational fishing to allow.
In 2002, then Gov. John Kitzhaber tried to create a network of reserves in state waters, but the process fell apart, with fishermen and coastal communities complaining they were being steamrollered to agree to something that would hurt them economically.
Since then, scientists have increasingly advised that overfishing is dangerously depleting fish populations around the world, making it important to protect underwater habitats as breeding grounds and sanctuaries for fish as well as to maintain healthy ecosystems.
Meanwhile, the Legislature is debating whether to fund a proposal to do the first detailed underwater maps of Oregon’s territorial waters.
The federal government oversees 13 national marine sanctuaries on the East, West, Gulf and Great Lakes coastlines and near Hawaii and American Samoa. Sanctuaries exist off Washington’s Olympic Peninsula and California’s Monterey Bay and Channel Islands, but not Oregon.
Paul Engelmeyer, who manages the Audubon Society’s Tenmile Creek Sanctuary and represents conservation groups on the council, said he has seen opposition ease over the years as coastal communities recognize the array of threats to marine habitat.
He added that Oregon is far behind its neighbors and other countries in protecting marine habitat.
Brad Pettinger, director of the Oregon Trawl Commission, said fishing trawlers generally fish farther off shore than state waters, and are waiting to see to see how big and where reserves might be located before staking out a position.
Jim Martin, a former Oregon chief of fisheries now working for a tackle industry group, the Berkley Conservation Institute, is wary of marine reserves, saying they cannot protect fisheries and habitat any better than existing controls. Those include limiting fishing seasons and bag limits, and controlling fishing for one species, such as rockfish, while allowing fishing for others, such as salmon and crab.
‘‘We are worried about the governor doing something for essentially a political gesture that may or may not be grounded in good transparent science,’’ Martin said.