SACRAMENTO (AP) – Commercial and sport fishermen wearing red T-shirts lined up Friday against scientists and environmentalists over proposals to protect up to 34 percent of the waters around the Channel Islands off the coast of Santa Barbara.

“We’ve got very colorful and very committed followers,” United Anglers of Southern California President Tom Raftican said of the more than three-dozen fishermen who took a bus to the hearing.

The fishermen fear for their livelihoods.

The biologists and conservationists fear for the fish, lobster, sea birds and other wildlife populations they say need enough protection to recover.

The two sides spent two years unsuccessfully searching for a compromise before handing off the debate last year to the California Fish and Game Commission.

The commission began hearings on the issue Friday. More hearings are set for March 7 and 8 in San Diego and April 4 and 5 in Long Beach, with a decision scheduled for August 1 and 2 in San Luis Obispo.

Even after the August decision, the over three-year process will continue as the Federal Western Pacific Fishery Management Council reviews whatever decision is reached by its California counterpart.

The Department of Fish and Game recommended in August that the commission protect 25 percent of the islands’ waters by creating 11 state marine reserves that would ban all fishing and most other activities, one state marine park that would allow some recreational but no commercial fishing and one marine conservation area that would ban or restrict certain fishing methods or activities.

But after more than 500 fishermen and environmentalists verbally sparred at the August presentation in Santa Barbara, the commission ordered the department to also prepare six alternatives that would protect between 12 percent and 34 percent of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary.

Only one small portion of the sanctuary, off Anacapa Island, is currently protected.

The commission could also decide not to make any changes or to delay any ruling until it considers whether protected areas are needed along the state’s entire 1,100-mile coastline – a separate decision expected in December 2003.

That is the outcome favored by Raftican and other fishermen.

Creating one set of reserves now and potentially others under the pending Marine Life Protection Act amounts to “double jeopardy” for fishermen, said Harry Liquornik of Commercial Fishermen of Santa Barbara Inc.

Even those who oppose the department’s plan generally agree something needs to be done to restore California’s depleted coastal waters.

“It really boils down to the size and scope,” said department spokeswoman Chamois Andersen.

The department’s 25 percent recommendation amounts to a compromise for scientists who had wanted 30 to 50 percent of the area set aside, said Kate Wing, an ocean policy analyst for the Natural Resources Defense Council.