Today the Oregon Senate voted 25-5 to approve three new marine reserves in state coastal waters.
Senate Bill 1510 restricts fishing in ocean areas at Cape Falcon, north of Manzanita, Cascade Head, north of Lincoln City, and Cape Perpetua, between Florence and Newport. It’s based on recommendations from stakeholder groups, and it still needs approval from the Oregon House of Representatives and a signature from the governor to become law.
Altogether, the five reserves make up less than 10 percent of the state’s territorial sea, which stretches out three miles from the coast. Both California and Washington have already roped off some protected areas in their coastal waters. Oregon has been debating the issue and working through a marine reserve planning process for nearly a decade.
Supporters of marine reserves say fishing restrictions protect the marine habitat and boost fish populations, which can have a positive spillover effect for fisheries. But critics in Oregon who have opposed marine reserves say the fishing restrictions would cause unnecessary damage to coastal economies and fishing businesses.
Before the Senate vote today, Sen. Betsy Johnson (D-Scappoose) said the bill is the result of years of negotiation and compromise, and that it has been “negotiated down” from 20 sites that would have covered 50 percent of the state’s territorial sea.
Several stakeholder groups were set up to recommend marine reserve sites that were large enough to provide meaningful environmental protection and small enough to prevent harm to coastal communities that depend on fishing.
Opposition to marine reserves was so strong on Oregon’s South Coast that last month the Port of Coos Bay nixed all the proposals to restrict or ban fishing between Reedsport and Bandon. Conservation groups say that leaves a big gap in the network of marine reserves they were hoping for.
But if SB 1510 passes, marine reserve opponents won’t get their wish to cap the state network at two pilot reserves. Johnson said some of her constituents don’t want to add another reserve at Cape Falcon, but she argued the alternative would be “a ballot measure that has the potential to tie up the entire Oregon Coast” and that would mean “Armageddon” for coastal economies.
Sen. Fred Girod (R-Stayton) voted against the bill today, calling it “a gun-to-the-head piece of legislation” that would unnecessarily hurt the sportfishing industry he represents.
“There have been no documented endangered species within those areas that I’m aware of,” he said. “This is simply a way of tying up the sea much the way we did the forests.”
Sen. Jeff Kruse (R-Roseburg) said he sees the bill as the beginning of a 10-year pilot project that doesn’t set anything in stone. It would direct Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife to report on the impact of the marine reserves by 2023.
“We’re not doing this because marine reserves are good,” he said. “I think the jury is still out on that. The point is to determine whether marine reserves are good on the Oregon coast. … If in the end it proves these set-asides are valuable, then we can start a discussion on what the next step will be.”