Marine reserves rankle ports, fishermen

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Monday, October 01, 2007

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OREGON COAST A push by Gov. Ted Kulongoski to create a network of marine reserves off the coast by 2009 has sparked serious concern among some port officials. They say the process is moving at a pace that doesn’t allow for adequate study of how reserves would affect the state’s commercial and sport fishing industries.

This summer the specter of reserves large enough to shut down fishing along 100-mile stretches of coast was raised. A meeting in Charleston of the Marine Reserves Working Group (a subcommittee of the Oregon Ocean Policy Advisory Council, or OPAC) saw heated comments from county commissioners and fishermen that ranged from how preliminary economic and scientific studies would be funded to whether there was even a need for reserves at all.

In August, commissioners at the Port of Newport approved a resolution that gave a nod to the benefits of reserves but listed 10 points — issues raised at the meeting — they want addressed in the planning process. Other ports are considering similar resolutions.

“There’s a risk that we’re getting the cart before the horse,” Don Mann, Newport port manager says. “The biggest risk is that we’re missing the opportunity to do the process right.”

Frank Warrens, chair of the Marine Reserves Working Group, says that because the process has not been well-defined, people are justified in being angry, and it’s been made worse by a lack of communication. “The wheels are beginning to come off,” Warrens says.

Warrens, a former charter fisherman, says he’s made suggestions to the governor’s office that he think will create changes in the process, specifically in how to increase public input.

The push for reserves started in 2002 with former Gov. John Kitzhaber. There have been several iterations of the idea, including a defunct proposal by Kulongoski for a reserve that would blanket 25,000 square miles off the coast. OPAC recommended against that idea, which kicked off the current round of planning. Now Kulongoski wants OPAC to come up with new recommendations by 2008 or 2009.

Several port managers say the push by the governor is what’s driving the accelerated pace, and they say it drives home the perception that there is little consideration for an industry that fishermen feel has been under attack for more than a decade.

Mark Freeman, port manager at the Port of Siuslaw in Florence, says marine reserve policy decisions need to be made and reconciled, in part, by the fishing industry. “There’s really a feeling that they’re not trying to manage fishing but manage fishermen and women,” he says.

ABRAHAM HYATT

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