Blake Warren – ON THE HOOK

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Friday, September 22, 2017
Carpe Tunnel
Friday, October 27, 2017
Open Ended

The interaction and the give and take between man, beast and Mother Nature is and always has been a delicate dance. Our local fisheries are in a continual state of flux — changing, shifting and evolving all the time as one year rolls right on into the next. Even moreso when you throw in the effects the human thumbprint can have on an ecosystem.

That’s exactly the scenario off the San Clemente coast, where plans to expand an existing 174-acre kelp reef about a mile south of the pier by 200 additional acres are currently in the works. The existing reef — constructed in 2008 by Southern California Edison in what was a $45 million project — could see its expansion begin as early as the summer of 2018, according to a recent report by the Orange County Register. The reef was originally built to offset a perceived reduction in the local fish population believed to have been caused by the now-defunct San Onofre nuclear facility’s saltwater cooling system, which expelled warm, cloudy water back into the ocean and distributed sandy water over the kelp bed, degrading the quality of habitat near the power plant.

According to the same Register report, San Clemente’s City Council was informed just this past Tuesday, Oct. 3 that the current reef habitat is only producing half the volume of fish needed to meet the necessary requirements of a California Coastal Commission permit. Edison’s plan to double the size of the reef and extending it north of the pier along a similar profile looks to remedy that.

“The beauty of this design is that it very much mimics what we have out there now, which is kind of a known commodity,” Patrick Tennant, Edison’s senior manager for mitigation and restoration, told the Register last week. “We’ve been studying it for a long time. We know how it responds. We were still kind of up in the air as to whether it was the right thing to do, but I think we’ve all come to agreement that it’s the right thing to do.

“If everything lines up perfectly, we could actually begin dropping rock as early as late summer next year,” Tennant added. “We have a very narrow window in between June and October to construct. We can’t construct beyond Oct. 1 because of lobster season. And prior to June, we get a lot of wave surge.”

The current plan, chosen after the Coastal Commission presented eight different options based on studies, must be reviewed by the State Lands Commission under the California Environmental Quality Act prior to it moving forward. Tennant said Edison hopes to have completed the review process by springtime and attempt to attain a Coastal Commission development permit for the project at that time. Due to the relatively short time window (June-Oct.) for construction, the project could take place over the next two years.

What does all this mean for us as anglers? Well, it could (and should) mean a number of things. Over doubling the size of the existing reef would surely create considerably more fish- and lobster-holding structure off the coast of San Clemente and likely draw in considerably more targets for anglers, along with a creating a few new likely hot spots to seek out and mark on the meter. On the downside, the project could also muck up a few folks’ current-day honey holes during construction the next couple summers / early falls, as well.

The stretch of water off the retired nuclear facility has also long been known as a favorite locale of juvenile white sharks, and with the heavy influx of great white sightings along our coast this past year, the issue of drawing even more of the big predators into the area is also somewhat of a possibility and a concern. However, Tennant told the Register that most of the fish on the reef are not the type that attract large sharks. “We typically haven’t seen an increase in the reef area of some of the larger sharks,” he said. “We do get a lot of the bottom sharks — leopard sharks are very common in the reef. The larger sharks don’t like to get tangled up in the kelp.”

On the whole, the reef expansion plan would appear to ultimately be a win in the long term for SoCal anglers, both in terms of plenty of new structure and an influx of new fish, and also as stewards of the current — and future — habitat of our coastline to ensure healthy and more plentiful fish populations in the years ahead.

Charles Darwin had the macrocosm of this whole delicate dance pegged nearly a couple hundred years ago. Species that fail to adapt, also fail to continue to exist. Well, the fact that we’re at least adapting to the ever-changing circumstances would lead one to believe that we’re moreso on the track to existing (both us and our fisheries) rather than ceasing to do so. And in a world that often seems to bring so much negative and cynical news our way, that can be seen as a beacon of positive light. At least in our little, beautiful corner of the world... More structure, more fish... no problem.

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