Kulongoski rolls a 7

There was something sadly appropriate about the venue for last week's big public airing of Gov. Ted Kulongoski's vision for fishing-free marine reserves off the Oregon coast.

The meetings were at Lincoln City's Chinook Winds Casino. And that was a fitting place because the odds of Kulongoski's plan going anywhere were about as lousy as the craps tables.

That's a shame. Years of research at 124 marine reserves around the world have shown them to be a good idea. They can help restore species and habitat while producing higher-catch rates around the reserves.

Marine biologists have succeeded in convincing environmentalists, politicians, government regulators and newspaper editorial boards. In Oregon, though, scientists have failed to convince the commercial-fishing industry and vocal parts of the communities supported by it.

This has been evident for more than a year, since the governor first rolled out his plan for up to nine reserves, provided they didn't pose any significant harm to coastal economies. Oregon communities along the coast, already leery of marine reserves after an earlier such attempt when John Kitzhaber was governor, became enflamed with opposition to Kulongoski's idea during months of public discussion of it.

By the time the state's Ocean Policy Advisory Council met at the casino last week to consider 20 proposals for Oregon marine reserves, the subject had become radioactive west of the Coast range. The council recommended just two pilot reserves, one near Depoe Bay and one near Port Orford.

Publicly, environmental groups hailed the recommendation as a "strong first step." Privately, some conservationists and marine biologists said the two proposals — both drawn up by fishermen-led groups — wouldn't amount to much; they're too far apart to work as the network envisioned by Kulongoski, and some said the Depoe Bay reserve was too small and shallow.

The council did call for a further look at four areas, near Cape Falcon, Cascade Head, Cape Perpetua and Cape Arago. But the panel stopped short of recommending any of a large slate of reserves proposed by Our Ocean, a coalition headed by the Pew Environmental Trust.

Some conservationists, frustrated by community hostility to marine reserves, have broached the possibility of creating them through a statewide initiative campaign. Such comments prompted a Curry County commissioner to threaten a counter campaign to ban marine reserves in Oregon's territorial sea.

Both ideas are bad. Ocean conservation policy created by initiative would be foolish policy.

But that's where Oregon may be headed in the absence of successful leadership on marine reserves. Given the weak coastal support for them, and the lack of state money to fund research for them anyway, they're looking increasingly like an idea that will have to wait for another day and another Oregon governor.

Share This Story