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Landmark Study Counters Pseudo Science Behind MLPA Process
by Dan Bacher
Saturday Aug 1st, 2009 4:03 PM
A new landmark study published in the July 31 issue of Science magazine reveals that the California Current ecosystem has the lowest fishery exploitation rate of any place in the world examined by co-authors Ray Hilborn and Boris Worm and 19 other scientists.
Landmark Study Counters Pseudo Science Behind MLPA Process

California has the lowest exploitation rate of fished stocks in the world

By Dan Bacher

A new groundbreaking study published in the July 31 issue of Science magazine reveals that the California Current ecosystem has the lowest fishery exploitation rate of any place in the world examined by co-authors Ray Hilborn and Boris Worm and 19 other scientists.

“The drastic reductions in harvest in California have been designed to rebuild the overexploited rockfish stocks,” said Hilborn. “At present the community of groundfish is now at about 60% of its unfished biomass, far above the 30-40% level target for maximum sustained yield.”

Dr. Hilborn, a professor at the School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences at the University of Washington, and the other authors of "Rebuilding Global Fisheries" say that efforts made to reduce overfishing are succeeding in five of ten large marine ecosystems studied, including those in California, New Zealand and Iceland. Their study puts into perspective recent reports predicting a “total collapse” of global fisheries within 40 years.

The conclusions by the 21 international scientists with widely divergent views effectively counter the spurious arguments by Governor Arnold Schwarzengger and his staff for the urgent “need” to fast-track the controversial Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) process because of the “dire condition” that rockfish, lingcod and other groundfish stocks are supposedly in along the California coast.

“Much of the motivation for the MLPA was concern about the state of the groundfish stocks - there is clear evidence that these can be rebuilt without MPAs resulting from the MLPA that have only recently begun to be implemented,” Hilborn said. “The benefits of the MPAs established under the MLPA will be primarily to have some areas of high abundance of species with limited mobility.”

This is not the first time that Dr. Hilborn has criticized the MLPA process. In 2006, Hilborn and others reviewed the MLPA model for size and spacing of MPAs and found: “It appears to us that those prescriptions were pulled out of the air, based on intuitive reasoning.”

Jim Martin, West Coast Director of the Recreational Fishing Alliance, said the new study confirmed what North Coast environmentalists, anglers and seaweed harvesters have known all along – that efforts to restore groundfish populations through the highly restrictive Pacific Fishery Management Council (PFMC) process are working.

“The conclusion that California has the lowest rate of groundfish exploitation of any place examined in the study demonstrates that the idea that we must rush into the MLPA process or there won’t be any fish left in the ocean is completely false,” said Martin.

MPLA Process: A Resource Grab, Not Marine Protection

A broad coalition of grass roots environmentalists, seaweed harvesters, Native American activists, recreational anglers, commercial fishermen, and elected officials on California’s North and North Central Coast is opposing the fast-track process for being an egregious case of corporate greenwashing rife with conflicts of interests, mission creep and the corruption of the democratic process. Many believe that Schwarzenegger and his allies are trying to kick sustainable fishermen and seaweed harvesters off the water to clear a path for corporations to install offshore oil rigs, wave energy projects and aquaculture facilities off the northern California coast.

As Judith Vidaver, chair of the Ocean Protection Coalition (OPC), said so eloquently in June at a groundbreaking meeting held by environmentalists, fishermen and seaweed harvesters in Point Arena to oppose the corrupt MLPA process, “What I see here is a resource grab. The first thing that the corporations want to do before grabbing public trust resources is to get rid of the people who live or subsist on the land and ocean.”

Likewise, Ann Maurice, Sonoma County Native American activist, put Schwarzenegger’s fast-track MLPA process in the larger context of cultural genocide by the state and federal governments against American Indian nations in California since the Gold Rush.

"Native Americans have been systematically deprived of the right to sustainably fish and harvest intertidal food," said Maurice, who has worked for years to stop MLPA closures from taking away traditional ocean harvesting areas vital to the survival of Kashaya and other tribal cultures. "Now the same thing is being done to you.”

There is nothing "green" about Schwarzenegger's fast track MLPA fiasco except for the Packard Foundation money that is funding a supposedly "public" process. At the same time that Schwarzenegger and his collaborators are ramrodding the MLPA process through the California Fish and Game Commission at the expense of coastal communities, he is pushing for a peripheral canal and more dams that will result in pushing collapsing Sacramento River Chinook salmon, Central Valley steelhead, green sturgeon, Delta smelt and the southern resident population of killer whales over the edge of extinction.

While coastal groundfish populations are rapidly rebuilding under the current fishery management process, Schwarzenegger is trying to impose more unneeded closures on the most heavily regulated coastal fishery in the world. Meanwhile, rather than supporting efforts by fishermen, Indian Tribes and environmentalists to restore anadromous species including salmon, steelhead and sturgeon, he has done everything he can to make these fish populations extinct by fighting a court-ordered plan to restore the fish and relentlessly supporting efforts by corporate agribusiness to increase water exports from the California Delta, the largest estuary on the West Coast of the Americas.

In a stunning case of reverse logic, Schwarzenegger and his staff are ruthlessly opposing fish restoration measures for anadromous species that are on the verge of extinction while imposing redundant area closures on groundfish stocks that are the least exploited of any fishery in the world examined in the landmark study published in Science!

The California Fish and Game Commission will make its decision on which marine protected area alternative to implement for the North Central Coast at its meeting at the Yolo Fliers Club Ballroom, 17980 County Road 94B, in Woodland, California on August 5 at 10 a.m. Fishing groups are supporting 2XA - the alternative that achieves fishery conservation objectives with the least economic impact. At the same time, the California Game Wardens Association, fishing groups and grassroots environmental groups are pushing for a suspension in the MLPA process, in light of the state's unprecedented economic crisis, numerous conflicts of interests by MLPA decision makers and the questionable "science" behind the process.

The data about California fisheries disclosed in the Science magazine article makes it even more clear that the Marine Life Protection Act process must be suspended, since the "science" behind the process needs to be completely re-examined.

The Global Perspective: Fish Stocks Need Rebuilding

While California and other regions have seen the rebuilding of groundfish stocks through the implementation of strict regulations, that is not the case everywhere examined in the study.

"In 5 of 10 well-studied ecosystems, the average exploitation rate has recently declined and is now at or below the rate predicted to achieve maximum sustainable yield for seven systems," according to the study. "Yet 63% of assessed fish stocks worldwide still require rebuilding, and even lower exploitation rates are needed to reverse the collapse of vulnerable species. Combined fisheries and conservation objectives can be achieved by merging diverse management actions, including catch restrictions, gear modification, and closed areas, depending on local context. Impacts of international fleets and the lack of alternatives to fishing complicate prospects for rebuilding fisheries in many poorer regions, highlighting the need for a global perspective on rebuilding marine resources."

The abstract for Rebuilding Global Fisheries is available at A subscription is required to read the full article on-line.

Listed below are the latest comments about this post.
These comments are submitted anonymously by website visitors.
The study supports Ray Hilborn, the coauthor.Smash the MLPA!Thursday Aug 6th, 2009 8:42 AM
Dan Bacher bais much?A readerWednesday Aug 5th, 2009 4:03 PM
MLPAseric millsSunday Aug 2nd, 2009 8:38 PM
Natural SeepageiSunday Aug 2nd, 2009 7:44 PM
Commercial Fisherman, OREGONPaul AlexanderSunday Aug 2nd, 2009 7:02 PM
A Trojan PerspectiveZagovorSunday Aug 2nd, 2009 5:51 PM
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