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Muddying the waters of California's marine 'protection' mess

by Dan Bacher
The State Lands Commission on August 20 approved a seismic testing plan that "will kill great blue whales, gray whales and others, dolphins, porpoises, seals, sea lions, otters and fishes" in a state marine reserve created under the privately funded Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative, according to independent journalist David Gurney.
Muddying the waters of California’s marine protection mess

by Dan Bacher

Jason Scorse, the director of the new Center for the Blue Economy at the Monterey Institute of International Studies and the author of What Environmentalists Need to Know about Economics, has written an interesting opinion piece in the Oakland Tribune discussing the economic value of the coast to the California economy and the need to protect the ocean.

“Consider that the coastal economy in San Mateo County alone is worth more than $58 billion,” said Scorse. “Everyone from the ice cream vendor on the pier, the dive shop owner, the real estate agent, even the tourist window shopping for a new bikini has a stake in keeping the ocean healthy.” (

I agree completely with Scorse’s statement: “State officials must avoid cutting corners when it comes to protecting and maintaining the coastal areas that make California so unique. Virtually every dollar supposedly saved by closing state beaches, reducing water-quality monitoring or decreasing beach cleanup and patrols will result in a net loss to the state when the full range of economic benefits of the coastline are taken into account.”

Working for healthier oceans and fisheries is not only the right thing to do, but it greatly benefits the California economy.

However, Scorse goes on to claim, “On June 6, a coastwide network of Marine Protected Areas was finalized – the first such network in the nation. These new underwater parks add to the state’s extensive system of state parks on land and both provide unparalleled recreational opportunities as well as significant economic benefits.”

Unfortunately, Scorse doesn’t support his claim that the marine protected areas created under Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative” will “provide unparalleled recreational opportunities as well as significant economic benefits” with any facts or data.

In fact, the “marine protected areas” created under the Marine Life Protection Act Initiative fail to provide comprehensive marine protection – and to call them “underwater parks” as Scorse has or “Yosemites of the Sea” as others have done is very deceptive. There are five “inconvenient truths” necessary to understanding the reality of the MLPA Initiative.

The real threats

First, these so-called “marine protected areas” do not protect the ocean from oil spills and drilling, military and seismic testing, corporate aquaculture, wind and wave energy projects and all other impacts on the ocean other than fishing and gathering. In violation of the letter and spirit of the landmark Marine Life Protection Act of 1999, these marine reserves fail to comprehensively protect the ocean from ocean industrialization and other threats to the marine ecosystem.

For example, while fishermen are prohibited from fishing in the Point Buchon State Marine Reserve on the Central Coast, the Pacific Gas and Electric Company has asked the California Fish and Game Commission for a “scientific collecting permit” to “cleanse” a huge swath of ocean including the marine reserve while conducting seismic testing. The testing has been mandated by the Federal Regulatory Commission as a condition for the relicensing of the controversial Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant.

More recently, the State Lands Commission on August 20 approved a seismic testing plan that "will kill great blue whales, gray whales and others, dolphins, porpoises, seals, sea lions, otters and fishes" in a state marine reserve created under the privately funded Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative, according to independent journalist David Gurney. (

"P.G.&E's seismic testing plan involves shooting powerful explosions from underwater cannons, sending shock-waves deep into the earth’s crust, to obtain 3-D images of the the myriad of earthquake faults directly offshore from the doomed Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant," said Gurney.

"The proposal will destroy virtually all marine life within a so-called “no-take zone” in the Point Bushon State Marine Reserve, created by a corrupted Marine Life Protection Act “Initiative.” During the coercive implementation of the MLPA, which was rife with conflict of interest and corruption, many objected that crooked scientists and power brokers were failing to protect marine reserves from exactly the type of destructive activity (“take”) that is now being proposed by PG&E, and tacitly approved by the silent presence of the MLPAI’s executive director Ken Wiseman," Gurney concluded.

Fox + Henhouse = Fail

Second, the MLPA Blue Ribbon Task Forces that oversaw the implementation of the “marine protected areas” included a big oil lobbyist, a marina developer, a real estate executive and other individuals with numerous conflicts of interest.

Catherine Reheis-Boyd, the president of the Western States Petroleum Association, served on the MLPA Blue Ribbon Task Forces for the Central Coast, North Central Coast and South Coast. Reheis-Boyd, a relentless advocate for offshore oil drilling, hydraulic fracturing (fracking), the Keystone XL Pipeline and the weakening of environmental laws, also CHAIRED the task force that developed the MPAs that went into effect in Southern California on January 1.

If having a big oil lobbyist overseeing the development of “marine protected areas” on the California Coast isn’t corporate greenwashing and bad public policy, I don’t know what is!

Many grassroots environmentalists and fishermen believe that Reheis-Boyd was appointed to the task forces to make sure that the oil industry’s interests were protected – and to ensure that recreational and commercial fishermen and seaweed harvesters, the most vocal opponents of offshore oil drilling, are removed from many areas on the ocean to clear a path for ocean industrialization.

Follow the money

Third, the allegedly “open and transparent” process was privately funded by the shadowy Resources Legacy Fund Foundation. This is an inherent conflict of interest, since this foundation also funds many of the corporate “environmental” NGOs who lobbied for the creation of marine reserves with the least possible protection from all other human impacts on the ocean other than fishing.

It is no surprise that Gordon S. Smith, the former President and CEO (1997-2006) of the Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E), serves on the Resources Legacy Fund Foundation Board. In an egregious conflict of interest, we have a former President and CEO of the company responsible for erasing marine life in a state marine reserve serving on the board of the foundation that funded the creation of that reserve and other alleged "marine protected areas" under the MLPA Initiative!

Smith joined PG&E in 1970 as a financial analyst and held a number of financial positions in the company, serving as Treasurer as well as Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer from 1991-1997. Mr. Smith is a former Director of the California Chamber of Commerce and the Bay Area Council. He also served as a Trustee of the University of San Francisco, a Director of the California Foundation on the Environment and the Economy, and a Trustee of the Monterey Bay Aquarium, according to the foundation's website.

This foundation, along with the S. D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation and David and Lucile Packard Foundation, is also notorious for funding studies by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) promoting the construction of a peripheral canal or tunnel to export more Delta water to corporate agribusiness and southern California. The construction of the tunnel is likely to hasten the extinction of Central Valley Chinook salmon, steelhead, Delta smelt, longfin smelt and other species.

Science? Who needs science?

Fourth, the Northern California Tribal Chairman’s Association, including the Chairs of the Elk Valley Rancheria, Hoopa Valley Tribe, Karuk Tribe, Smith River Rancheria, Trinidad Rancheria, and Yurok Tribe, believes the science behind the MLPA Initiative developed by Schwarzenegger’s Science Advisory Team is “incomplete and terminally flawed.”

The Yurok Tribe said it has attempted on numerous occasions to address the inadequacies with the MLPA science developed under the Schwarzenegger administration by adding “more robust protocols” into the equation, but was denied every time. This denial of consideration of the Tribe’s scientific data flies in the face of false claims by MLPA advocates that the privately funded initiative creates “Yosemites of the Sea” and “underwater parks” based on “science.” (

Mike Belchik, senior fisheries biologist from the Yurok Fisheries Program, dispelled the false notion that the MLPA is a “science-based” process when he gave a brief presentation challenging the false assumptions of the MLPA “science” at the Fish and Game Commission meeting in Stockton on June 29, 2011.

Environmental justice

Fifth, the new regulations on the North Coast, in a great miscarriage of justice, prohibit Yurok Tribe members from gathering seaweed, mussels and fish at their traditional gathering areas at Reading Rock and the False Klamath. Two Tribal Elders told the Fish and Game Commission in Eureka on June 6 that they would continuing gathering food, regardless of the Commission’s decision.

“We are hunters, fishermen and gatherers and we have lived here since time immemorial,” said David Gensaw Sr., a member of the Yurok Tribal Council. “We have gathered on these shores forever since the Creator put us here.”

Yurok Tribal Elder Jack Matz emphasized, “If the regulations are implemented the way they are planned now, you will have a confrontation with a lot of elders, including myself.”

“While we appreciate the Brown administration’s support and the Fish and Game Commission effort to recognize tribal traditional harvesting rights, there is more that needs to be done in order to protect our culture and our resources for present and future generations,” said Yurok Tribal Chairman Thomas P. O’Rourke Sr. “We also have serious questions about the science, developed under the Schwarzenegger Administration, which the process relies upon. We believe it requires a truly impartial external review and revision in order to work for our region.”

A mess

The numerous conflicts of interest, failure to comprehensively protect the ocean, shadowy private funding, incomplete and terminally flawed science and violation of tribal gathering and fishing rights have made the MLPA into one of the most egregious examples of corporate greenwashing in California history. Hopefully, other states will learn from the example of California’s Marine Life Protection Act Initiative and not repeat the same mistakes, such as the use of “incomplete and terminally flawed” science to create “marine protected areas.”

This is an expanded version of my piece published on the Red, Green and Blue website:
Add Your Comments
Listed below are the latest comments about this post.
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Dion Schwulst
Thu, Oct 18, 2012 8:43PM
Dan Bacher
Wed, Aug 22, 2012 5:31PM
Jason Scorse
Wed, Aug 22, 2012 3:48PM
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