'Sea change' coming to Oregon coastal waters
New plan seeks to balance ocean habitat, uses
Final recommendations for Oregon's new Territorial Sea Plan are scheduled to be voted on next week by the state Land Conservation and Development Commission.
The ocean off the Oregon coast is a busy place, and several groups have spent the last few years planning how to protect fish, birds and habitat while balancing uses such as shipping, commercial fishing, recreation and, most recently, energy development.
Ben Enticknap, Pacific Project manager for Oceana, says the Ocean Policy Advisory Council is recommending that the footprint of wave-energy developments be no more than 2 percent of the coastal area.
"It's precautionary, taking it slow and seeing if it's possible to do it right," he said. "We are dealing with new technologies in a highly ecologically important ocean ecosystem -- but knowing that there could be immense benefits for renewable energy in the future, if we do this right."
There's already wave-energy testing off the Newport coast and a 50-megawatt plant planned for Reedsport. Enticknap says conservation groups support development if it does not harm sea life, including the gray whales that migrate directly through Oregon's territorial waters from the Arctic to Baja California.
Last year, the Legislature designated three new marine reserves and buffer zones around them, known as marine protected areas (MPAs). Sometimes called "underwater parks," they give endangered fish species a chance to come back stronger and in greater numbers, says Enticknap.
"Some of the rockfish species and the depleted species that we're very concerned about, we think will benefit most from these smaller marine reserves and marine protected areas," he said. "They will grow up to be larger fish, producing more young, and overall increasing their populations off our coast."
Oregon is taking some cues from California, which completed its network of marine protected areas in December. The new ones stretch from the Oregon border to south of Fort Bragg.
Karen Garrison, oceans policy analyst with the Natural Resources Defense Council, says many of the MPAs are located near public beaches and state parks, where they've been a boost for local economies.
"In the Channel Islands, we saw an increase in scuba diving and kayaking in the protected areas," Garrison said. "That's going to be true throughout the state.
"These areas will draw people to the coast, but at the same time, they'll have protections in place that make sure that we're using these places sustainably."
The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife is collecting baseline data about the protected areas before the fishing restrictions start in 2014 (or at Cape Falcon in 2016). The Territorial Sea Plan vote is set for Jan. 24.
More information about Oregon's Territorial Sea Plan is available at www.oregonocean.info. More about California MPAs is at www.dfg.ca.gov.
Chris Thomas of Oregon News Service provided this report.