Commercial fisherman who ply the waters off Southern California are concerned that the creation of “restriction zones” will put them out of business by blocking access to coastal seas with the most plentiful fish.

The proposed restrictions are the result of a 1999 law that requires the state Department of Fish and Game to set aside “marine protected areas,” with the goals of protecting sensitive ecosystems and preventing overfishing.

At a two-day workshop in Los Angeles this week, interested parties – including fishermen, divers, ferry pilots, surfers and others – are expected to forward three proposals to a state task force, said Melissa Miller-Henson, program manager for the California Marine Life Protection Act Initiative. The proposals call for the creation of marine protected areas off the coast from Malibu to San Diego.

The task force will meet next month to submit its recommendation to the California Fish and Game Commission. That recommendation could include all three plans with a “preferred alternative” or could be a single plan combining elements of all three proposals.

The commission’s goal is to have marine protected areas in place early next year.

The restriction zones will likely cover areas of several square miles off Palos Verdes Peninsula, Catalina Island and Malibu.

Of the three proposals, one is expected to be very restrictive, one moderately restrictive and the third less so.

Whatever proposal ultimately emerges, local commercial fishermen said most of their concerns have so far been ignored and that their business will be threatened as a result.

“The way this is going now, my livelihood and that of anyone dependent on the water for their living will be affected,” said Bob Bertelli, a commercial sea urchin fisherman who works in the waters off L.A. County and is president of the California Sea Urchin Commission.

Speaking from his docked fishing vessel, Bertelli said two of the three plans would likely place off-limits much of the rocky sea floor where sea urchins dwell.

“All the plans will have huge economic impacts and the studies they have done on this have been very limited in scope,” Bertelli said. “They haven’t even looked at what this will do to seafood restaurants that rely on locally caught fish.”

Those interested in participating can find details at dfg.ca.gov/mlpa/meetings.

Permit hurdle cleared

The state Senate last week passed a bill that will lift a ban that had been placed on permits for several thousand construction projects in Southern California.

The bill, SB 696 by Sen. Rod Wright, D-Los Angeles, was crafted in response to a court ruling nearly two years ago that halted the South Coast Air Quality Management’s authority to issue permits for power plants and other major construction projects. The ruling stemmed from a lawsuit by environmentalists over the agency’s granting of discounted pollution credits for power plant and public works projects, and business expansions.

Originally, Wright’s bill sought to allow permits for all the halted projects; late last month he reached a compromise with environmental groups that removed power plant projects from the bill. Those projects would still be subject to the court ruling barring the AQMD from issuing permits.

The compromise enabled Wright’s bill to sail through the state Senate on a 31-2 vote. The bill goes to the Assembly this week, where it needs a two-thirds majority for passage because it’s classified as an urgency bill. The urgency status means that it will take effect as soon as it’s signed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Port Workshop

The California Air Resources Board has scheduled a workshop to solicit ideas for reducing emissions from idling cargo-handling equipment at the region’s ports and rail yards.

The agency already has regulations to control emissions from cargo-handling equipment while in full operation; this set of regulations would limit diesel emissions from equipment with engines in idle mode while between jobs.

Cargo-handling equipment is used to transfer goods, or perform maintenance and repair activities and includes equipment such as transfer vehicles, cranes, top handlers, side handlers, forklifts and loaders.

The workshop is to be held at California Environmental Protection Agency headquarters in Sacramento on Sept. 16; for more information, log on to the Air Resources Board’s Web site at arb.ca.gov/ports/cargo.

Online Training

The U.S. Small Business Administration last week launched an online training course designed to help small businesses win bids for federal contracts.

The training course, “Recovery Act Opportunities: How to Win Federal Contracts,” is part of a wide federal initiative announced last month by President Obama and is being led by the SBA and the Department of Commerce.

For more information, log on to the SBA’s Web site at sba.gov/fedcontractingtraining.

Staff reporter Howard Fine can be reached at hfine@labusinessjournal.com or at (323) 549-5225, ext. 227.

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