PORTLAND, Ore. — Oregon’s state Legislature is on track to add three no-fishing marine reserves off the coast.
That would amount to 38 square miles of ocean wilderness, despite continued concerns from fishing groups, The Oregonian reported.
Coastal legislators from both parties have signed off on Senate Bill 1510, partly out of concerns that ocean conservation groups might otherwise push a statewide ballot measure to cover more of Oregon’s biologically rich territorial sea.
“I believe this bill protects the coast from an economic Armageddon that could result from a ballot measure,” Sen. Betsy Johnson, a Scappoose Democrat, told the Senate environment committee Thursday.
The committee unanimously voted in favor of sending the bill to the Senate floor for a vote.
The bill calls for authorizing reserves and less-restrictive marine protected areas at Cape Falcon south of Cannon Beach, Cascade Head near Lincoln City and at Cape Perpetua near Yachats.
Reserves allow research and boating, but prohibit fishing, crabbing, pipelines and industrial activity.
If approved, the areas would join two smaller reserves at Redfish Rocks near Port Orford and Otter Rocks near Depoe Bay.
The reserves authorization is a top priority for conservation groups. Marine reserves aim to increase fish numbers, provide a refuge for fish, boost ocean research and allow scientists to gauge the impact of fishing on fish populations.
Reserves allow boating and research, but bar fishing, crabbing, pipelines and industrial activity such as wave and wind energy. Less-restrictive protected areas generally allow some fishing and crabbing but not bottom trawling, seen as most destructive of habitat.
Oregon’s territorial sea covers a roughly three-mile strip off its coast. It is home to kelp forests, pinnacles and rocky reefs hosting hundreds of species.
Marine scientists warn that the proposed reserves may be too small to be effective. The reserves would be too much, however, for many fishermen and charter boat operators, already facing federal restrictions on fishing, including limits on salmon and on rockfish.
Linda Buell, whose family owns two charter fishing boats in Garibaldi, told the committee that the town’s charter fleet has dropped to five, from 28 in the 1990s. The Cape Falcon reserve, the most controversial of the three, would further limit fishing and the tourists it attracts, she said.
“I’m not sure we’ll still be here in 10 years,” she said.
The bill calls for gathering baseline scientific data on fish populations in the areas before any new restrictions would take effect. That likely would take two years.
The bill also asks the state Department of Fish and Wildlife to use local crews to gather data “where feasible and practical.”