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Ocean plan could reduce fishing fleet

By Jim Wasserman

The Modesto Bee

The Associated Press

5th April 2004

Environmentalists who tapped taxpayer money to buy thousands of acres of California coastline to stop development are now targeting the Pacific Ocean, with a plan to curb human activity by buying boats, fishing permits and possibly underwater land.

The idea is provoking a renewed struggle between some of the world's wealthiest and most powerful environmental groups and fishermen who fear they will be booted off the ocean they prowl for recreation and profit.

California voters could be pulled into the fight in November.

Governor Schwarzenegger has taken no position on proposals that ask voters to steer state bond money to environmentalists' ocean wish lists - and create a Cabinet-level Ocean Protection Council within state government.

The proposals, sponsored by the New York-based Natural Resources Defense Council and Washington, D.C.-based Oceans Conservancy, would represent the state's first major response to a Pew Oceans Commission report released in June detailing the growing threat to the world's oceans from population growth and overfishing. They also represent a possible funding hike for ocean projects in a coastal state beset by cutbacks.

The 18-member Pew commission, a $5.5 million project of Philadelphia-based Pew Charitable Trusts, recommends a Cabinet-level ocean council and placing more of the ocean off-limits to human and commercial use.

"If we're going to reverse the trends that are happening right now with coastal development, water pollution, overexploitation of fishing and climate change, we need a lot more tools than we have right now," said Chuck Cook, director of the California Coastal Marine Program for the Arlington, Va.-based Nature Conservancy.

Cook and others want bond money to buy fishing boats and licenses that range from $150 to $150,000 each, and more for ocean mapping, remote vehicles with video cameras and scuba diving research time.

Their target is money from Proposition 50, the $3.44 billion bond measure that California voters passed in 2002 to protect the state's coastlines and wetlands and restore its estuaries, bays and coastal waters.

To expand Proposition 50, the Senate and Assembly have to approve a new use for the bond money by June 25, a legislative deadline that is flexible. California voters would have to do the same in November.

If approved, a new Ocean Protection Council of legislators and key agency directors would help decide where to spend money, the use of which is so far unspecified.

Authored by one of the Legislature's most powerful members, Senator John Burton, D-San Francisco, the bills cleared the Senate's key Natural Resources and Wildlife Committee on March 23 and are scheduled to go before the Senate Appropriations Committee on April 19.

Opponents, including fishing groups and oil companies, hope tight legislative deadlines will sink the bills, at least this year.

Recreational fishermen are especially hostile, believing the environmental agenda is to push them out of the regulatory process.

"It's like we don't have any representation," said Ron Aliotti, a Monterey fisherman and owner of the Silver Streak, a 34-foot fishing boat. "They want to keep it all pristine like God made it."

Randy Fry, an official with the 6,000-member Coastside Fishing Club in Pacifica, said anglers believe "corporate environmental groups" are manoeuvering around California's Department of Fish and Game and the fishing industry to impose restrictive "ocean zoning" and new no- fishing zones along the coast.

"Their No. 1 agenda is a network of marine reserves along the coast," said Fry, a contention Cook denies.