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ANCHORAGE - The Alaska Board of Fisheries has voted unanimously in support of drafting a policy on the protection of marine areas.
Such marine reserves can include broad swaths of ocean, often closed to commercial fishing, dredging and oil production. The goal is to foster biodiversity or, in some cases, to help particular species recover from overfishing, pollution or other threats.
In some of these marine reserves, all such activities may be restricted. Other areas may be recognized as a protected but have no management limitations. It's much like an underwater national park, monument or grassland, where rules and uses vary.
The Alaska policy will be developed over fall and winter by a steering committee that includes scientists, fishermen, conservationists, two members of the Board of Fisheries and 10 people representing various regions of the state.
The Board of Fisheries, meeting in Anchorage, voted 7-0 Saturday to pursue the concept of marine protected areas. Nominations for the steering committee will be taken until Nov. 27. The board expects to seat the panel at its Dec. 5-6 meeting in Anchorage. The goal is to have a draft policy ready by March.
In July, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game released a report that made recommendations for a public process that would lead to marine protection zones. It didn't suggest any particular areas or stocks that need special protection, said Doug Woodby, chairman of a state task force on the issue.
State commercial fisheries director Doug Mecum stressed the importance of letting stakeholders drive the process.
"You need the public buy-in. Otherwise it's not going to go anywhere," Mecum said.