By BRIAN BULLOCK
Four open house meetings next week in Southern Oregon, including one in Brookings, will be the only opportunity for area residents to voice their opinions on the potential closure of the area's offshore fisheries.
The Oregon Ocean Policy Advisory Council has scheduled the first meeting Monday in Medford, the second one in Brookings Tuesday, a third meeting Wednesday at Port Orford City Hall, and the fourth meeting Thursday in North Bend.
The Brookings meeting is scheduled for 7 to 9 p.m. at the Best Western Brookings Inn on Chetco Avenue. The Port Orford meeting is scheduled for 4 to 6 p.m.
The meetings will give residents a chance to discuss the proposed establishment of marine reserves being considered as a method of rebuilding populations of certain rock fish.
The council was requested by the governor in July 2000 to review the issue of marine protected areas and to provide him with recommendations on state policy.
The council consulted with fishermen, marine scientists, port officials, environmental organizations and others, and will prepare its final recommendation to the governor by the end of August.
The reserves, if established by the council, could effectively shut down both commercial and recreational fishing, as well as other recreational uses in waters within the reserve boundaries.
Port of Brookings Harbor executive director Russ Crabtree said he doesn't believe the sky is falling on the fishing industry, but he's also aware it happened on the East Coast and could happen here.
"There's no reason to shut down an entire blanket area based on the scientific evidence available," he said. "I think we need to get in and look at the science that has led to this."
The closure of the West Coast fisheries could begin in September 2003, if ordered by the Pacific Fishery Management Council.
The reason for the proposed action is the declining populations of the Canary rockfish, Bocaccio and Yelloweye rockfish, which, according to National Marine Fisheries Service studies, are at a record low.
If adopted, the marine reserves would not only potentially put commercial fishermen on the West Coast out of business, it could prevent recreational ocean fishing and would prohibit any recreational activities along the coast.
Crabtree said the action would not only kill the commercial fishing industry, it would create a ripple effect that would cause economic problems all along the coast.
"The Port of Brookings Harbor has 252 jobs either directly or indirectly associated with the commercial fishing industry," he said.
"People have to understand that this isn't just a threat to commercial fishing, it's a threat to our recreational activities that make up the fabric of the quality of life for the people who live on the coast."
Crabtree said the commercial and recreational fishing industry accounted for $252 million in fiscal year 2001-2002.
The port director explained this issue should create alliances between groups that use the Pacific Ocean. Recreational boaters, commercial fishermen, surfers, kayakers and divers should all join forces, Crabtree said.
He also said the potential federal action is "galvanizing" normally separate groups from up and down the Pacific Coast.
Oregon ports are networking with Northern California ports, and commercial fishing groups are working with recreational fishermen to find an alternative to the potential closure, according to Crabtree.
"I don't think anybody wants to achieve total closures. I think people are working to avoid that," he explained. "But this is no time to be an independent. You've got to work together or else everyone loses."