In a victory for environmentalists – and fish dwelling in the sea surrounding the Channel Islands – Santa Barbara coastal waters became part of the second-largest “no-fishing” zone in the United States on Wednesday.

Regulations creating the 175-square-mile network of preserved waters, which form the largest marine reserve on the West Coast, are intended to give endangered white abalone, rockfish, giant kelp forests and other marine species the opportunity to recover from excessive fishing in the area.

Scott Bull, local Shoreline Preservation Fund grant manager, said that the reserve is a good balance between the needs of fishermen and the need to preserve ocean life. He said its creation has been a long process involving many local community members, fishermen and non-government organizations.

“This is a historical event,” Bull said. “It’s great for the sake of our local coastline and for the well-being and long-term sustainability of local fisheries.”

Bull said the reserve will help young fish to get bigger, since they will have refuge from commercial and sport fishermen. He said that environmentalists wanted even more space for the reserve, but in this plan “the fisheries won’t get hammered as much.”

Joe Geever, Southern California regional coordinator of the Surfrider Foundation, said this new Channel Island marine reserve is one of the first of its kind in the United States.

“What’s unique about this network is that it includes marine reserves which are fully protected, as opposed to some sanctuaries which mostly just prohibit oil drilling,” Geever said. “These reserves are a new step in protecting our ocean resources.”

Fishing groups filed a lawsuit in December that accused the state of failing to collect information for the marine reserve before its creation. Last month, a Ventura County judge rejected a request for a temporary restraining order.

Commercial fishermen fear the new reserve will lead to more no-fishing zones and conservation areas up and down California’s 1,150-mile coastline. State law requires a draft map of such a network by 2005.

An economic impact report done for the state’s Fish and Game Commission indicated that sport fishing and diving boat operators could lose as much as $6 million per year in income due to the reserve. Commercial fishermen could lose as much as $3 million per year.

Geever said the Surfrider Foundation has been very supportive of the Channel Island marine reserve plan and its members were on the working group that helped secure the creation of the reserve by the California Fish and Game Commission.

– The Associated Press contributed to this story.