It's taken a decade, but conservationists are finally heralding the passage of legislation that will create a system of marine reserves off the Oregon Coast, where fishing and other commercial activity will be excluded from taking place.
On Tuesday, the Oregon Senate passed the bill, known as SB 1510, by a 25-5 vote that will now go to the governor.
Sen. Betsy Johnson, a member of the Coastal Caucus and a sponsor of the law, told colleagues Tuesday the bill "was not a perfect piece of legislation" because of the compromises made passing it.
But concerns that conservation groups outside the state would write their own ballot measure, with much stricter language calling for as many as 32 reserves, helped spur the compromises, she said. She called such a ballot measure "economic Armageddon."
"I absolutely believe this bill is an inoculation against a ballot measure," she said on the Senate floor.
The legislation will create the state's first series of permanent marine reserves for habitat restoration and study at Cape Perpetua, Cascade Head and Cape Falcon, near Cannon Beach. Overall, the reserves will set aside about 5 percent of what's known as the territorial sea, the 31⁄2 mile expanse of ocean directly off the coast.
Environmentalists who had pushed for the legislation for the better part of a decade liken the reserves to a "savings account," said Susan Allen, director of the conservation coalition Our Ocean.
They hope that by prohibiting fishing and other activities in certain areas, that commercial uses in other areas will improve while at the same time protecting wildlife habitat.
"Stakeholders figured out how to come to a compromise for the most part," Allen said. "There was a middle ground discovered."
Those compromises centered around just how much of the coast should be excluded from commercial use, she said. Early plans called for as much as a third of Oregon's territorial sea to be designated a marine reserve.
Meanwhile, the Oregon Conservation Network hailed marine reserves as "an essential step ... conserving habitats and marine life for generations to come."
With the bill's passage, Oregon joins Washington and California in having marine reserves. In some areas of Oregon's reserves, fishing will be banned outright, while other portions will allow for limited trolling and crabbing.
The notion of setting aside marine reserves dates back to Gov. John Kitzhaber's second term in 2002. At the time, the Ocean Policy Advisory Council recommended the plan, but it elicited concerns among the fishing community who worried it would diminish fishing routes.
Gov. Ted Kulongoski later prioritized the plan and issued an executive order in 2008.
A year later, Kulongoski's executive order led state legislators to enact two pilot reserves, while creating a process for stakeholders to reach an agreement on future plans.
Cannon Beach City Councilor Melissa Cadwallader participated in the stakeholder meetings three years ago.
A strong supporter of marine reserves, Cadwallader said she understands concerns from the fishing community.
"There was a lot of controversy with Cape Falcon," she said. "Fishers are very concerned about their livelihood."
Within the fishing community, views on the bill are definitely a mixed bag, said Brad Pettinger, a commercial fisherman and director of the Oregon Trawl Commission.
Marine reserves will likely affect crab fishermen more than trawlers, Pettinger said. Trawlers typically go farther than three miles into the ocean and are already federally regulated.
He said the best that can be said for the legislation is that it was the result of a compromise. He added that many fishermen still don't understand why the state is limiting uses of the ocean.
"The West Coast still has the lowest rate of exploitation of the ocean," Pettinger said. "It's not like the wild west, with people going bonkers pulling too many fish out of the water."He said the fishing community will watch to see how effective the marine reserves are.
The bill may act as a new point of entry for local discussions about ocean uses, he said.
Clatsop County is working on its own planning measures that will address commercial uses within the territorial sea off its coast. The discussions have been moved along by interest from wave energy manufacturers, who have discussed placing energy-generating buoys off the North Coast.
Siting of wave energy buoys could further restrict fishing routes, Pettinger said.
Planning will continue during a meeting of the Territorial Sea Plan working group, scheduled for from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Feb. 17 at Camp Rilea Warrior Hall.