The Oregon Senate on Tuesday overwhelmingly supported a proposal adding three marine reserves to state waters.
If the bill, which advanced on a 25-5 vote, also passes the House, it would bring the total to five areas protecting marine habitat within state waters. It also would end a decade of fighting in Salem over the idea of protecting coastal waters from intense fishing to assure fish and crabs will thrive.
Despite misgivings, Sen. Betsy Johnson, D-Scappoose, urged passage, saying creating the reserves would "serve as an inoculation" against the prospects for a ballot measure that would be even tougher on the economies of coastal communities struggling from longstanding cutbacks in commercial fishing.
In 2009 the Legislature created two pilot reserves and set up an intense process for fishermen, conservation groups, and coastal communities to find agreement. The bill was made up of recommendations from the Ocean Policy Advisory Council based on those negotiations.
The new areas are off Cape Perpetua, Cape Falcon, and Cascade Head, and cover 5 percent of state waters. The areas have core areas where fishing is outright banned, surrounded by areas where trolling and crab pots are allowed. Bottom trawling is not allowed.
"This is simply a way of tying up the seas in much the same way we did the forest," said Sen. Fred Girod, R-Stayton, before casting a no vote.
Sen. Jeff Kruse, R-Roseburg, said the bill took pains to protect the economies of coastal communities, while leaving room to change course if scientific evidence points a different way in the future.
Brad Pettinger, a commercial fishing boat owner and member of the Oregon Trawl Commission, said trawlers, which drag heavy nets on rollers along the ocean bottom, are already relegated by federal regulations to deeper waters. The biggest impacts would be on crab fishing, which is Oregon's biggest single commercial fishery, and commercial and recreational hook-and-line fishing for groundfish, he said.
Oregon is the last of the three West Coast states to create a network of marine reserves. Both California and Washington have more extensive networks.
Ben Enticknap, Pacific project manager for the conservation group Oceana, said the science was clear that marine reserves increase the size and diversity of marine species, and that abundance spreads outside the boundaries of the reserves.
The Oregon network will show whether a network of reserves, connected by ocean currents, will help coastal waters survive the changes from global warming and the acidification of ocean waters that warming waters bring, he said.