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An angler fishes across from the Walton Lighthouse at the mouth of the harbor, where the activity has been allowed. (Shmuel Thaler - Santa Cruz Sentinel)

SANTA CRUZ >> The future of Santa Cruz Small Craft Harbor fishing continues to hang in the balance after the Santa Cruz Port Commission sidestepped taking action Tuesday night.

On the table before a standing-room only crowd was an update to the harbor's fishing policies, crafted at the direction of the commission after several public hearings. The proposal would have maintained the harbor's existing no-fishing policy, in its current form since 1975, allowing exceptions only for group event permits and limited jetty fishing.

Instead, the no-fishing policy will remain as-is, and port staff will form a stakeholder task force to work on crafting a more collaborative effort with the community.

In the meantime, the public may apply for special event permits, and some jetty fishing access will be allowed provisionally, officials said. No end date for the discussion was established.

Slip renter Darren Gertler said his efforts to apply for a children's fishing event had thus far been stymied, with the window of summertime dates rapidly drying up.

"I am worried that the harbor's calls for cooperation and public input have become a waste of my time," Gertler said. "Why can we not just come to a compromise on salmon fishing so that a great resource is not wasted. We put the fish in the harbor, and we should be able to remove them, too."


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Fishing concerns have come to a head at the harbor since 2012. An unusually high influx of salmon farmed by Monterey Bay Salmon and Trout Project in pens nearby and released into the ocean returned to the harbor as adults in an unsuccessful attempt to spawn. Limited fishing at the north end of the harbor was allowed, Port Director Lisa Ekers said, with significant impacts to harbor tenants, staff and resources.

Commissioner Dennis Smith put the onus on the public to both keep in check nuisance fishers who flout rules, and to come up with alternative solutions that everyone can agree on.

"It's the outsiders, everyone can agree, that's the problem. It's that 2 or 3 percent," Smith said. "There's one thing that wasn't recognized here tonight. It's the effect that that 2 or 3 percent has on our operations ... That's where the difficulty comes in."

Some speakers accused the commission of racism and classism, saying those that are most benefited by in-harbor fishing cannot afford to rent a boat and go out on the ocean. Others said that the influx of fishers at the back of the harbor was harming a public resource and should be prohibited. Most spoke in support of allowing children to continue fishing, at a minimum, with suggestions of volunteers working as monitors or fishing and parking permits used to pay for staffing.

The fishing update stood little chance of passage Tuesday, as even port director Ekers did not stand behind the proposal. A jetty fishing exception to the fishing ban, Ekers wrote in a commission report, was unsafe. She listed complaints, disturbances and injuries that have occurred there just since mid-June as supporting argument.

Of the 15 speakers who formally addressed the commission, four asked for better restrictions on harbor fishing, while others supported continued fishing allowances. Aldo's Restaurant owner John Olivieri said he would not debate the pros and cons of harbor fishing, but asked that everyone work together to lessen impact on illegal parking, excess garbage and overuse of the fish cleaning station.