The state Legislature on Tuesday approved an expansion of Oregon's small system of marine reserves to research how they may help better manage commercial fisheries.
After a brief debate, the House voted 57-2 to pass the bill creating three new marine reserves in state waters extending three miles from the coast, for a total of five.
The vote sends Senate Bill 1510 to the governor, who said he would sign it.
The legislation ends more than a decade of fighting among commercial fishermen, conservation groups and coastal communities over whether to close some areas to fishing to make marine environments stronger, or just make it harder for struggling coastal economies. California and Washington have both established networks of reserves.
Members of the Coastal Caucus urged passage of the bill, despite more than a decade of bitter fighting to defend their economies from potential losses from restrictions on commercial fishing.
"Only through real science will we be better able to manage commercial fishing," Rep. Wayne Krieger, R-Gold Beach, said on the House floor before voting in favor of the bill. He added in an interview that he was concerned there was not enough money to do the research properly.
Funded by $1.6 million in lottery money, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife will spend two years gathering baseline data on marine populations, as well as social and economic impacts on coastal communities, before restrictions go into effect. They will continue to monitor biological and socio-economic information. After 10 years, the Legislature can evaluate the information and decide whether to expand or cut back the reserves.
"We are not implementing these right now as prime-time management action," said Ed Bowles, fisheries chief for the department. "We are siting these and studying them to determine how useful they are in our management portfolio."
Bowles said the reserves would be particularly valuable in studying how coastal waters react to rising temperatures and acidification expected as the climate changes.
The new marine reserves and protected areas are off Cape Perpetua, Cape Falcon, and Cascade Head. The whole system covers 5 percent of state waters.
The reserves are made up of core areas where no fishing, crabbing, wave energy or mineral extraction will be allowed. They are surrounded by areas where trolling and crab pots are allowed. Bottom trawling already is relegated to deeper waters farther offshore by federal fishing regulations.
Susan Allen, director of the Our Ocean coalition of conservation groups, said scientific studies around the world have shown marine reserves produce more and bigger fish, but the public needs time to absorb the information.
Ben Enticknap of the conservation group Oceana said he hoped that as the research increases knowledge about the value of marine reserves in Oregon waters, new areas will be added, particularly on the southern end of the coast.
Rep. Jim Thompson, R-Dallas, voted against the bill. He said afterward that he was convinced extreme environmentalists meant to "shut down the oceans to commercial fishing."