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Commission Bans Indians, Seaweed Harvesters From Traditional Areas
by Dan Bacher
Thursday Aug 6th, 2009 1:33 PM
The Schwarzenegger-appointed California Fish and Game Commission yesterday voted 3 to 2 for a package of Marine Protected Areas that will ban Lester Pinola and the members of the Kashia Rancheria from sustainably harvesting seafood as they have done for centuries.
Commission Bans Indians, Seaweed Harvesters From Traditional Areas

Racism and elitism prevails over science and environmental justice

By Dan Bacher

Lester Pinola, the past chairman of the Kashia Rancheria in Sonoma County, and members of his tribe have harvested abalone, seaweed and mussels for hundreds of years in the inter-tidal zone off Stewarts Point.

However, the California Fish and Game Commission yesterday voted 3 to 2 for a network of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) that will ban Pinola and his tribe from sustainably harvesting seafood as they have done for centuries. The new reserve network on the North Central Coast, stretching from the waters near Half Moon Bay to Point Arena, will close approximately 20 percent of the state waters in the region to seaweed gathering and fishing.

“What you are doing to us is taking the food out of our mouths,” said Pinola in a public hearing prior to the contentious vote. “When the first settlers came to the coast, they didn’t how to feed themselves. Our people showed them how to eat out of the ocean. In my opinion, this was a big mistake.”

Pinola spoke in solidarity with recreational anglers, commercial fishermen and grassroots environmentalists that showed in force at the meeting in support of 2XA, the alternative that best met the conservation objectives of the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) process while incurring the least economic harm to coastal communities. Under this alternative, Pinola and members of his tribe would be allowed to continue harvesting abalone and seaweed, but the Commission instead chose the option pushed by the Governor and his staff, the Integrated Preferred Alternative (IPA), that closes access to Pinola and his tribe.

“We as tribal members abide by the state fishing regulations, even though are we a federally recognized sovereign nation,” he said. “We observe the bag limit of 3 abalone and 45 pounds of seaweed when we pick the rocks. We feed our elders who longer can go down to the ocean to harvest abalone and seaweed.”

The tribe of 600 members is one of 23 Pomo tribes in California. Historically, other tribes in the region would trade with the Kashia for abalone and seaweed. They were known for the jewelry that they made out of abalone shells and traded with other tribes, according to Pinola.

“The state shouldn’t be able to take our traditional harvesting rights away from us,” said Pinola. “We were here first, but these people on the Fish and Game Commission don’t seem to care.”

Fish and Game Commissioner Richard Rogers and Michael Sutton praised the Marine Life Protection Act process for being a transparent one before their vote.

“What we have before us today is the result of a complicated, open, historic process,” said Rogers. “I’ve seen processes before that were real railroad jobs and this isn’t one. It is the singlemost best process in my life that I’ve been involved with."

Pinola disagreed completely with Rogers' contention. “They never contacted us at all,” he stated. “They didn’t let us know they were planning to close the coast to fishing and seaweed harvesting even though we were the first people on the coast.”

The vote took only one day after Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger appointed a new member of the Fish and Game Commission, Donald Benninghoven. A Republican stalwart from Santa Barbara, Benninghoven served on the MLPA Blue Ribbon Task Force in the north central region from 2007 to 2009. As expected, he voted for the "Integrated Preferred Alternative" (IPA) for the North Central Coast yesterday.

Benninghoven replaced the former President of the Commission, Cindy Gustafson, who mysteriously and suddenly resigned from her post on Friday. Although the Schwarzenegger administration claimed she resigned due to a “conflict of interest," political insiders claim that the Governor pressured her to resign because she was a swing vote on the MLPA.

Fish and Game Commissioners Dan Richards and Jim Kellogg put forward a motion to support 2XA, the alternative supported by fishing groups, Indian Tribes, seaweed harvesters and North Coast environmentalists, but they did not get a chance to vote for it. They put forward a motion to suspend the implementation of the regulations until funding is available and studies are completed in the existing reserves in south-central California. This motion failed 3-2

The three Commissioners voted against this motion, even though the California Game Wardens Association asked the Commission to delay or suspend the implementation of the North Central Coast process, due to the lack of enough funding and staff for enforcement of new marine reserves when there aren't even enough officers to enforce the existing ones. “We request you delay or suspend any new mandates until there is some relief from furloughs and enough officers to enforce these significant new provisions,” according to a letter from the California Fish and Game Wardens Association that Jerry Karnow presented..

Commissioner Richard Rogers then made a motion to approve the "Preferred Alternative" which passed with Don Benninghoven and Mike Sutton voting "Yea" and Kellogg and Richards voting "Absolutely Not!" The entire meeting can be viewed at (California Fish & Game Commission, August 5th, 2009.)

A broad coalition of grass roots environmentalists, Indian Tribes, commercial fishermen, recreational fishermen and recreational divers were outraged by the vote – and the political manipulation of the Commission’s decision by the Governor.

“I’m really stunned that our democracy would be trashed like it was today,” said John Lewallen, one of the founders of the Ocean Protection Coalition and the “Seaweed Rebellion” on California’s North Coast, a group that has worked since 1987 against oil drilling, water pollution, wave energy projects and corporate greenwashing. “Californians have to oppose today’s decision and the MLPA process or our coast will be taken over by private money interests.”

The marine reserve package passed by the Commission yesterday will kick Lewallen and his wife, Barbara Stephens-Lewallen, off Sea Lion Cove near Point Arena where they have sustainably harvested sea palms and other seaweed for 25 years.

Lewallen, other North Coast environmentalists, fishermen and Indian Tribes have slammed Schwarzenegger’s MLPA process for being a corrupt process, filled with numerous conflicts of interest. The supposedly “public” process is funded by a private foundation, the Resource Legacy Fund Foundation, in turn funded by the Packard Foundation and the Betty Moore foundation, organizations with many dark ties to corporations involved in environmental destruction and corporate greenwashing.

"The MLPA is the back door to oil,” said Tomas DiFiore, Mendocino County seaweed harvester and environmentalist.

"Conceived as law in 1999 in response to mismanaged fisheries/politics, the science was there all along, but the MLPA was hijacked by the Betty Moore Foundation," DiFiore told the Commission. “Dr. John M. 'Mick' Seidl, the President of Maxxam, Inc, Enron, Kaisertech and many other oil related firms, by June 5, 2001 was the Environmental Grant Program Director for the Foundation's first 4 years. Almost every company Dr. John was president of since the 70's has gone bankrupt. The MLPA Initiative could bankrupt our ocean and our coastal communities."

After DiFiore spoke, Commissioner Richard Rogers claimed that the Betty Moore Foundation didn’t fund the MLPA process. However, later in the meeting Rogers retracted his previous statement and acknowledged that the Betty Moore Foundation indeed funds the process through the Resource Legacy Fund Foundation (RLFF).

While the Commission decision was an affront to the democratic process and environmental justice, it was also a huge affront to science.

Jim Martin, West Coast Director of the Recreational Fishing Alliance and Dan Wohlford, Science Director of the Coastside Fishing Club and member of the Pacific Fishery Management Council (PFMC), both pointed out that a landmark study published in Science magazine on July 31 said that the California Current marine ecosystem has the lowest fishery exploitation rate of any place in the world examined. This peer reviewed scientific assessment, coauthored by Ray Hilborn, Boris Worm and 19 other international scientists, contrasts with the claims of Governor and his collaborators that stocks of groundfish including lingcod and rockfish are in severe crisis and that the massive area closures are needed to “save” them – and effectively challenges the need to fast-track the MLPA process.

“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,” Dr. Hilborn said.

The network of new marine reserves is supposedly designed to "protect" 85 square miles of ocean, but will do nothing to protect these waters from pollution by cities, farms, industry and oil tankers. It only serve to remove Indian Tribe members, fishermen and seaweed harvesters, among the strongest backers of fishery and environmental restoration, from the water permanently.