Debate over protection of marine life

April 23, 2008 10:09:17 AM PDT
Commercial fisherman in Northern California are fighting for their livelihoods. The Department of Fish and Game is considering fishing restrictions from Point Arena in the north -- down to Pigeon Point along the San Mateo County coastline.

It takes an extraordinary event for a commercial fisherman to leave his boat when he might be making money. But in Bolinas, 'Tern' sat empty, while in San Rafael, Jeremy Dierks, the man who owns her, looked at maps that may determine his working future.

"It will make or break me, pretty much."

Because in Northern California, acual fishing mattered less than the public hearing about it. The Department of Fish and Game prepared to establish marine protection areas between Half Moon Bay and Point Arena.

The most severe plan would close 27 percent of the most productive waters.

"It's going to hurt a little now, but will be better later," says Karen Garrison of the Natural Resources Defense Council.

These restrictions conform with the Marine Life Protection Act of 1999. The state sees this as a way of creating safe havens, like national parks, where threatened species can build up their populations, and thrive again.

Tuesday's hearing was all about finding balance.

"I've been into the environment since I was a kid. My dad is an organic farmer. It's my future. I want to see it go. I want to see it healthy," says commercial fisherman Jeremy Dierks.

Both sport and commercial fishermen favor a less limiting plan. They're already reeling from the ban on salmon fishing. In Bolinas, only three commercial fishermen remain of the 20 who used to work here. They worry about the survival of this industry all along California's coast.

"The newest boat in Bodega Bay is 20 years old. That tells a story. We've been hurting for a while. This is nothing new," says commercial fisherman, Josh Churchman.

"I want to make sure my children have a better ocean and a thriving ocean," says Karen Garrison.

The panel will probably make its recommendation on Wednesday. If it comes up with one of the more restrictive plans, the local fish you buy in the store today may seem like a deal next year.

"It's going to get really expensive and it's going to come from another ocean," says commercial fisherman, Bob Knowles.


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