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Senate passes bill for marine reserves.

Byline: Saul Hubbard The Register-Guard

SALEM - The Oregon Senate comfortably approved a bill on Tuesday that would start the process of establishing a marine reserve off Cape Perpetua just south of Yachats, as well as two others, one at Cascade Head near Lincoln City and one at Cape Falcon south of Cannon Beach.

The three new reserves, in which all fishing would be barred to protect marine life, would total just less than 40 square miles of offshore waters. That area constitutes less than 5 percent of Oregon's territorial sea - a three-mile-wide strip of ocean along the state's coastline.

The bill, Senate Bill 1510, also sets in motion the creation of seven "marine protected areas" near those three locations where some limited fishing and crabbing would be permitted but trawling would not. Those areas - two of which would be near Cape Perpetua - would together total just more than 50 square miles of territorial sea.

None of the fishing restrictions under the bill would go into effect until scientists measure current marine activity in the protected spots. That "baseline" data would allow scientists to observe what effect the reserves have on aquatic life once implemented.

The Senate approved the bill on a 25-5 vote, with five Republicans dissenting.

Sen. Betsy Johnson, a Scappoose Democrat, said the bill "is not a perfect piece of legislation" but represents "compromise" between fishing interests and environmental groups that are lobbying for larger protected areas.

Similar marine reserves have been put in place in Washington and California and at two Oregon locations - at Redfish Rocks near Port Orford and Otter Rock between Newport and Depoe Bay - and went into effect this year.

Some state lawmakers hope the bill will blunt any efforts to create even bigger reserves.

Some legislators worried that environmental groups might seek reserve protections for vast swathes of Oregon coastline waters through a ballot measure, potentially causing severe disruptions to the state's fishing industry.

Johnson said SB 1510 would be an "inoculation" against a "well-funded, East-Coast-drafted ballot measure that has the very real potential to tie up the whole Oregon coast."

"This bill protects the coast from economic Armageddon," she said.

After the vote, Johnson said she couldn't "pinpoint" any organization that was considering a ballot measure, but had been informed that some "major funders" were considering such a move.

Sen. Jeff Kruse, a Roseburg Republican, said he believes "the jury is still out" on whether the reserves help marine life, but that the scientific studies required by the bill would help find answers.

"What we're attempting to do here is not do natural resource policy based on politics, rather we're trying to do (it) ... based on sound science," he said.

Sen. Fred Girod, a Stayton Republican, said he opposed the bill because he considered it "a gun-to-the-head piece of legislation," because of the threat of the ballot measure.

"There has been no documented endangered species (in the Oregon territorial sea) that I am aware of," he said. "This is simply a way of tying up the sea much the same way that we did the forest."

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Title Annotation:Environment; The legislation would establish protected areas near Cape Perpetua, Cascade Head and Cape Falcon
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Geographic Code:1U9OR
Date:Feb 8, 2012
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