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Commission to review North Coast MLPA proposal after Brown takes office
by Dan Bacher
Sunday Nov 7th, 2010 1:01 PM
Governor-elect Jerry Brown has not made any public comments to date about what direction his administration will take regarding the implementation and enforcement of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) process.

Photo: Thomas O'Rourke, chair of the Yurok Tribal Council, speaks at a protest against the MLPA in Fort Bragg on July 21, 2010.

Commission to review North Coast MLPA proposal after Brown takes office

by Dan Bacher

A panel overseeing the creation of marine protected areas on the North Coast voted unanimously on October 27 to forward the unified proposal developed by Tribal, fishing and environmental stakeholders, but the California Fish and Game Commission's final decision on the issue will not be made until 2011 after Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger leaves office.

The MPA proposal, developed by Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative's 33-member north coast regional stakeholder group (NCRSG), will be presented to the California Fish and Game Commission together with a modified “enhanced compliance alternative” marine protected area proposal and other recommendations in Sacramento on February 2, 2011.

After the proposal is presented to the Commission, the Commission will hold hearings to solicit public comment. A final decision is not expected until later in the year under the incoming Jerry Brown administration.

Brown has not made any public comments to date about what direction his administration will take regarding the implementation and enforcement of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's MLPA process. In 2004, Schwarzenegger privatized the process by allowing a private corporation, the Resources Legacy Fund Foundation, to fund the initiative through a MOU between the foundation and the Department of Fish and Game.

The Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative Blue Ribbon Task Force (BRTF) also adopted two additional recommendations related to traditional tribal uses in the north coast region and recognizing a tribal use category within MPAs and a recommendation for the state to seek co-management partnerships between sister agencies and California tribes and tribal communities. One motion included a mutual reservation of rights by the state and California Tribes and Tribal communities.

In addition, the panel adopted a recommendation to retain existing MPAs at MacKerricher, Russian Gulch and Van Damme state parks.

If adopted by the Commission, the unified proposal would result in about 13 percent of the North Coast region being restricted or closed to fishing and gathering, versus 16 to 20 percent in other regions of the state.

“I’m extremely proud of the stakeholder group for accomplishing their task with great integrity and consideration for the entire north coast region and all ocean users,” said Ken Wiseman, executive director of the MLPA Initiative. “The stakeholders did a tremendous job of working together as a community in this science-based public process.”

Jim Martin, West Coast Regional Director of the Recreational Fishing Alliance, said the approval of the single proposal represented a "tremendous effort by North Coast recreational anglers, commercial fishermen, Indian Tribes and Tribal Communities, local conservationists and local governments to come together."

“This unified plan has garnered support from every corner of the north coast, and it really considers the needs of everyone that uses the ocean for work or play,” said Jennifer Savage of the Ocean Conservancy.

On October 20, three counties, 10 cities and three harbor districts signed and sent a resolution to the state of California urging the adoption without modification of the unified array for marine protected areas developed by North Coast Tribal, fishing and environmental stakeholders.

Assemblymember Wesley Chesbro (D-Arcata), who has been critical of the MLPA Initiative, urged the task force to adopt the single proposal.

"I believe that there are fundamental flaws in the way that the MLPA has been implemented," Chesbro told the panel. "The MLPA Initiative has not looked at the ecological differences between regions in the state. They have no consideration of existing fishing regulations. I strongly urge that the unified proposal be adopted unchanged."

"The unified proposal is fragile like a soap bubble," quipped Martin, emphasizing the hundreds and hundreds of hours spent by Tribes, fishermen, seaweed harvesters, local governments and businesses to develop one proposal. "If you reach out and touch it, it will pop. The adoption of the proposal with no substantive changes is a huge victory for all of the North Coast communities who participated in the process."

Megan Rocha, Self-Governance Officer of the Yurok Tribe, applauded the resounding support for the unified proposal plus the recognition of tribal uses by the task force and the stakeholders.

"The Tribe now looks forward to working with the Department of Fish and Game, the Fish and Game Commission and the Legislature to resolve the tribal use issue," she said. "The motion regarding the mutual reservation of rights by the Tribes and the state is really big, since early on in the process the state said it didn't have the authority to recognize tribal uses. Now we can move forward and recognize that the real issue is resource management, not quibbling over who has authority."

On July 21, over 300 members of 50 Indian Nations, recreational anglers, commercial fishermen, environmentalists, seaweed harvesters and community activists peacefully took over the previous Blue Ribbon Task Force meeting to protest the violation of tribal fishing and gathering rights under the MLPA.

Frankie Joe Myers, a Yurok Tribal ceremonial leader and organizer for the Coastal Justice Coalition that organized the direct action, said that he was glad that the task force adopted the unified proposal and passed motions supporting traditional tribal gathering and co-management.

"It is close to what we are looking for," said Myers. "However, the proposal still has to go through the Fish and Game Commission - it's not over yet. As native people, we have seen time and time again where we sit down and agree on something and then what comes out in the end is nothing like we expected."

Some critics of the controversial MLPA Initiative, including David Gurney, the independent journalist and activist who was arrested for filming a work session on the MLPA Regional Stakeholders Group in April, don’t support the unified proposal.

“The fraudulent MLPA Initiative is indeed a bubble,” said Gurney. “It is a soapy, oily bubble of fraud and corruption that has plagued this state for six years and running. The MLPA Initiative was a fraud from the get-go, and will continue to be up until the time that they arrest you for trying to feed yourself. You cannot legislate who will eat and who will starve.”

Judith Vidaver, chair of the Ocean Protection Coalition, criticized the proposal for eliminating the only public access for shore based fishing and gathering between between Cleone and Westport by the creation of the Ten Mile MPA.

“So after presenting this issue, along with members of the Regional Stakeholders Group, to the BRFT multiple times with no response from the BRTF, I asked them to make a motion to move the boundary 600 feet south,” said Vidaver. “On consultation, DFG made it clear that to do so would result in the Ten Mile MPA no longer meeting the minimum science guidelines."

“The BRTF did leave it open to the RSG to possibly come up with a solution. We are researching our options,” she stated.

She also emphasized, “OPC believes the MLPAI is politically—not science—driven.” Fishing groups, Tribes and environmentalists have criticized the MLPA Blue Ribbon Task Force, a panel that includes an oil lobbyist, marina developer and real estate executive, for conflicts of interests over the designation of marine protected areas.

“Several members of the BRTF have conflicts of interest, most obviously, Catherine Reheis-Boyd, President of the Western States Petroleum Association, who repeatedly lobbies for opening up the entire coast of California to offshore oil drilling,” Vidaver told the BRTF during the public comment period before their votes. “OPC again requests Mrs. Reheis-Boyd and anyone else with blatant conflicts of interest to recuse themselves from these proceedings.”

However, Vidaver did note that Reheis-Boyd made the proposal to move the unified proposal forward. “That action goes a long way towards alleviating our concerns about her conflicts of interest,” Vidaver said.

Meanwhile, the Partnership for Sustainable Oceans and United Anglers of Southern California continue to pursue multi-layered litigation against the MLPA Initiative.

On October 1, a Superior Court Judge in Sacramento issued a ruling confirming that two panels overseeing the MLPA Initiative must comply with the California Public Records Act. Judge Patrick Marlette ruled that the Marine Life Protection Act Blue Ribbon Task Force (BRTF) and Master Plan Team (MPT) are state agencies and are therefore compelled by California’s Public Records Act to share information with representatives of angling/conservation organizations working to protect recreational ocean access.

For more information about the MLPA Initiative, go to: http://www.dfg.ca.gov/mlpa.