By BRIAN BULLOCK
Local fishermen and residents delivered a resounding "no" this week to the Ocean Policy Advisory Council's proposal to establish marine reserves along the Oregon Coast.
The protest was as loud and clear as a fog horn warning fishing boat captains of looming danger. And that's precisely what the OPAC meetings are doing.
A crowd of more than 200 area residents packed the conference room at the Best Western Brookings Inn Tuesday to hear Bob Bailey, of the state Land Conservation and Development Commission, explain why the government is considering establishment of the reserves.
Bailey had the unenviable task of trying to explain to a group of professionals exactly why the state and federal governments are toying with the idea of added legislation that could put them out of business.
He went through a series of displays explaining the definitions of marine protected areas and marine reserves, origins of the recommendation, reasons to assess marine reserves, and the rationale behind the recommendation. He said he was in Brookings to get a feel for public sentiment on the issue.
Public sentiment on the issue was not at all sentimental.
"We're saying no' to marine reserves," said Russ Crabtree, executive director of the Port of Brookings Harbor.
"This is (the) movement that will lock you out of a public resource," Crabtree told the gathering. "So say, no!'"
Bailey said the action is not being taken haphazardly. He pointed out that the decision to investigate the possibility of establishing reserves has come from a variety of authorities.
A presidential executive order in 2000 directed federal agencies to strengthen marine protection.
An action plan for protected areas is being developed by the Commission for Environmental Cooperation, part of the North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).
Science-based theory of marine reserves is being espoused by marine scientists nationwide.
And "major" environmental organizations claim reserves are needed to maintain the integrity of marine ecosystems. Bailey said these organizations equated to "public interest" in marine protection.
The public at the Brookings meeting was definitely not interested in establishing marine reserves.
Jim Welter, a former commercial fisherman, local fisheries expert and member of the Oregon South Coast Fishermen, Inc., picked apart the groups behind the effort to establish the reserves. He said neither "the Clinton White House" nor NAFTA were friends of the fishing industry.
He questioned why environmental organizations such as the Environmental Defense Fund are considered "public interest" groups while fishing industry representatives are not.
Welter also pointed out the long list of government agencies that already regulate commercial and recreational fishing as "enough, already."
Ralph Brown, a commercial trawler and member of the Pacific Fisheries Management Council, asked a simple question that didn't seem to have an answer.
"How can we prevent an organization from doing the same thing to the fishing industry that the Audubon Society did to the timber industry?" Brown asked.
Bailey explained that OPAC is comprised of a wide range of individuals, including fishermen, and organizations. He also said despite the overwhelming opposition to the reserves present at the Brookings meeting, their response is exactly why the meetings were being held.
"We've had a number of meetings down here over the years and this is by far the largest crowd we've had," he said.
"I appreciate everybody coming out tonight. This is what these meetings are intended to do."
Bailey also tried to temper rising tempers by explaining that he would take opinions, reactions and comments from all 11 OPAC public meetings back to the council. OPAC is scheduled to present its findings to the governor in August.
Tom Klonowski, of Brookings, suggested any action taken toward establishing marine reserves be taken by elected officials, not appointed council members.
Bob Rose, who owns a ceramic tile business in Brookings, said OPAC lacked the authority to restrict ocean use.
"The ocean belongs to the people, not you guys," he told Bailey.
People attending the meeting agreed with Rose and seemed frustrated with what they saw as a lack of information and disregard for their opinions and comments.
Bailey, in fact, gave the impression that the decision to do something had already been made. The meetings were being held to inform the public that something was coming.
"Long story short, the majority of the council agreed this is probably an idea worth testing," Bailey said of the marine reserves.
"The council has not decided on any areas or sizes," he later added.
The size of potential reserves, or the idea of "rolling reserves," whose boundaries would move around depending on seasons, were floated by OPAC and seemed to sink in the eyes of the public gathered in Brookings.
One fisherman pointed out that rolling reserves didn't work on the East Coast and asked Bailey what makes OPAC think they will work here.
Welter said there are examples all over the world of failed marine reserves, including off the shores of Alabama, Queensland, Australia, and Guam. He said that was enough reason to not attempt to establish them in Oregon.
As much information as was kicked around at the meeting, both Bailey and the audience were frustrated by the lack of scientific information on the issue.
Members of the audience wanted to know how long the reserves would be in place. They wanted to know where they would be located. They wanted to know how big they would be. And they wanted to know how they would be funded.
Bailey had few answers.
"In many respects, a lot of the questions and comments you have don't have answers yet," Bailey said.
He said he didn't know where they would be located or how big they would be. He said Oregon's territorial waters, the 3 mile limit, comprised some 1,200 square miles of ocean that could potentially be affected.
Several fishermen said the federal government should worry about protecting and enforcing its 200-mile territorial limit from foreign fishermen rather than hamstringing domestic fleets.
Others suggested better information be gathered before action is taken.
One said any action by federal agencies would lack credibility because of a lack of jurisdiction.
"The Oregon Ocean Policy Advisory Council and your proposed recommendation lacks jurisdiction under the Oregon and Federal Constitutions by multiple counts of fraud against the guaranteed rights of due process and jurisdiction," Tim Williams read in a statement.
He said harassment of fishing boats by the U.S. Coast Guard amounts to "acts of terrorism" under U.S. Code Title 18, Section 3077.
Williams also said the marine reserves would destroy the livelihoods of local fishermen and that would be a violation of U.S. Code Title 18, Section 2385.
"You mention this science-based' theory. Is this science-based theory' to starve the people here into submission," Williams said.
Curry County Commissioner Lucie La Bont read a statement explaining the county's opposition to the proposed reserves.
"We believe that before marine reserves are established off of the coast of any county, that the county government should have a vote on whether or not marine reserves should proceed based on economic impacts to the existing businesses and local governments within that county."
La Bont said that before the governor takes any position on the establishment of marine reserves, an economic analysis should be done.
She said that analysis should include: impacts to the commercial and recreational fishing industries; impacts to the small businesses that are associated with commercial and recreational fishing; impacts of lost revenue to local, state and federal governments; and analysis should include the present economic conditions of adjacent communities.
The economics of further restricting an already heavily regulated industry could be a death blow, many said.
"It affects your ability to buy groceries, to make your car payments and to pay for your house and everything else," Welter told the fishermen in the audience.
Crabtree pointed out that 37 pieces of legislation restricting the fishing industry already exist. He questioned the need for one more.
Bailey said he was a bit surprised by the turnout. Only a handful of people showed up at the meeting Monday in Medford. And, he said, most of the fishermen at the meeting in Newport objected to the idea of marine reserves.
The audience and representatives of Curry County, port and regional associations delivered a united message to Bailey.
"The idea was to come here and see if this is an idea worth proposing," Bailey said.
"It's not!" many in the audience yelled in unison.