ENCINITAS — Christmas came early for conservationists as the California Fish and Game Commission voted to create 36 new marine protected areas along the state’s southern coastline on Dec. 15. The 3-2 vote was taken after exhaustive public hearings over a two-year period.
With the vote, Swamis is now the largest protected area in San Diego at more than 3 shoreline miles and 10 square miles of protected area.
Fishing or taking any living marine resources is prohibited in marine protected areas but specific restrictions vary from place to place. Swamis will still allow for spear fishing and shore fishing by hook and line gear.
“We’ve been working toward this historic vote for more than four years,” said Meagan Wylie, San Diego Coastkeeper’s marine conservation manager. “It’s like a savings account for our ocean — set a little aside so it can recuperate and thrive and we will all — fisherman, residents, recreational users, marine life — benefit from the interest.”
A state task force recommended last year that several areas along the San Diego County coastline become protected marine sanctuaries including a 9-square-mile area of kelp beds off Encinitas waters. However, the commission decided to expand the area.
Several commercial fishermen out of Oceanside Harbor said the new regulation was overzealous. “This isn’t going to help save the ocean,” Stan Banks said. “It’s going to make us work twice as hard in other areas.”
The five-member panel also voted to create protected zones at San Elijo and Batiquitos lagoons.
“I don’t see what the harm is in recreational fishing off the beaches,” Leonard Hilton said. The lifelong Oceanside resident said several of his friends had been commercial fishermen at one time or another. “I’m glad that they (the commission) didn’t take all the fun out of fishing but this sounds like another case of the government trampling on the rights of citizens when there is no evidence that what they are trying to protect even needs protecting.”
Another fisherman said he was surprised at the vote. “I think there is a need for intelligent conservation of our natural resources, but I didn’t think they (the commission) would take the steps necessary to make it happen in our area,” said Bill Cutler of Carlsbad.
A 64-member stakeholder group, including commercial fishing operators and environmentalists, advised the task force.
Some seafood enthusiasts worried that the price of local seafood would be impacted by the decision. “It’s nice to know that so many of the restaurants still serve local catch,” Perry Wilcox said. “If every good fishing spot becomes a protected sanctuary we’re going to have to pay a lot higher prices for lobster and who knows where it will come from,” the Cardiff-by-the-Sea resident said.