NORTH BEND -- Cape Arago probably won't see a marine reserve anytime soon.
Wednesday night, after listening to about 50 people speak over the course of three hours, Oregon International Port of Coos Bay commissioners said they would recommend to Oregon's Ocean Policy Advisory Committee that a reserve not be established there. Their recommendation culminates a nearly two-year review.
The commission also will recommend that the region revisit the possibility of establishing a reserve after state scientists conduct studies on existing marine reserves in other places along the coast.
Tonight will 'culminate in an action that won't make everybody happy, but leaves it open to revisit this in the future," said Commissioner Caddy McKeown.
Other commissioners expressed similar viewpoints.
More than 100 people gathered at the community center to voice their concerns and hear the decision Wednesday night. Scientists, politicians, fishermen and others all threw in their two cents.
'We understand this may be an emotional issue to people on both sides," the port's interim chief operating officer, David Koch, said before commenting began. 'Please avoid emotional outbursts."
Twenty-eight people spoke in support of a reserve; 19 were against and two were neither for or against.
Many of the commenters were involved in the marine reserve review process and stressed the importance of having better scientific data on the environmental impact of such a plan. Those in favor of a reserve said the review committee did not have access to the best scientific data, and if they had, the decision may have been different. Those opposed to a reserve said scientists have not pinpointed a specific reason for -- or benefit to -- having a reserve.
'We haven't closed the door'
There was disagreement among commenters about the economic impact a reserve might have on the local economy. Some said a reserve -- which would close off an area of ocean from all commercial or private fishing and other human activity -- would stifle local fishing and recreation industries. Others said the benefits to ocean health and scientific study would outweigh the small economic impact. Many agreed that a more complete study of the economic impact would better inform the process.
'What struck a chord with me tonight is we could all benefit from more scientific information," Commissioner Dan Smith said. 'We haven't closed the door."
How we got here
The marine reserve review process began in March 2008, when then-Gov. Ted Kulongoski directed 'state agencies to protect coastal communities in siting marine reserves and wave energy projects." At that time, the Oregon Ocean Policy Advisory Council began establishing a process to review marine reserve proposals along Oregon's coast.
In May 2009, the port established the Port Marine Reserve Recommendation Committee, made up of community stakeholders and local scientists, to determine the need for a reserve by reviewing the latest science and determining the level of economic impact on the local community.
The committee reviewed three proposed reserve sites and determined in March 2011 -- by a two-thirds majority vote -- that no marine reserve should be established.
Five reserves have already been established.
Supporters of the marine reserve system say it is important to have several reserves along the coast, without large gaps, to ensure equal benefits and accurate studies.
'This is beyond a local issue," commenter Minda Stiles of Portland said. 'The seas are all connected and so are we."
However, those against establishing a reserve say the area off Coos Bay is well-protected already, and fish stocks are healthy.
State biologists will study these 'pilot reserves" in the coming years to determine the environmental impact of the untouched areas on fish populations. When more scientific information is available, the port plans to revisit the idea.
The question is: When will this happen?
'We should step back and let the state take over," McKeown said. When state scientists and officials decide enough data has been collected, the port will take another look, she added.
McKeown warned Coos County to stay alert to this process, though, lest the process happen without them.
Reporter Jessie Higgins can be reached at 541-269-1222, ext. 240, or firstname.lastname@example.org.