No agreement for fishermen, environmentalists

The Associated Press
Thursday May 17, 2001

SANTA BARBARA — Two years of consensus-building and compromise among fishermen and environmentalists failed Wednesday to produce a plan to establish the nation’s biggest marine reserve off California. 

Federal and state officials had been looking to the Marine Reserve Working Group to develop a community-based consensus on a reserve plan around the five islands that make up Channel Islands National Park. 

Talks broke down Wednesday as the economic concerns of fishermen in the group butted heads with the environmental worries of other panelists. 

“Right now I can’t, as a representative of an industry that’s already struggling, ... give up what you want us to give up,” Robert Fletcher, a panelist representing the Sport Fishing Association of California, told environmentalists. 

Group members and the people they represent said they were disappointed they couldn’t reach consensus, adding that it would have given locals the ability to direct a marine reserve process that will now enter the state’s hands.  

But they were proud of the unprecedented amount of information gathered about where fish live and where fisherman catch them. 

“There would have been a lot of benefit in actually being able to walk arm-in-arm to the Fish and Game Commission,” said commercial diver Bruce Steele.  

“If you can achieve consensus in this day and age, there’s huge power in it.” 

Without that consensus, state officials will create their own plan for no-fishing zones along the California coast subject to federal approval. The deadline for a proposal already has been extended six months. 

Fishermen on the 17-member panel stressed that they had agreed to give up many fishing areas in the process and wanted their concessions forwarded to the state and federal officials who will decide the issue. 

“I feel a little bit like we were in a plane accident today, but we all survived,” said Dale Glantz, a kelp harvester who lived through a plane crash six years ago. 

The panel agreed to give the group that created it, the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary Advisory Council, the map that illustrated the divide between fishermen and environmentalists. 

The map showed the 12 percent of the 1,200 square-mile sanctuary that all sides could agree on, as well as the 28 percent environmentalists argued were needed to make the fishery sustainable. 

Both numbers fall short of the 30 to 50 percent a science panel recommended for the working group.  

Fishing interests criticized the guideline, saying the science panel relied too much on modeling rather than data. 

Environmentalists said the panel’s report needed to make clear that the areas of agreement fell well short of what they consider necessary for a sustainable fishery. 

“I don’t want to vote and say here it is, I like it and it’s good,” said Greg Helms, a panelist representing the Center for Marine Conservation. “Where we are is not consensus, it’s the lowest common denominator.”