|Anglers Protest the Perfectly Transparent, Clearly Illegal MLPA Initiative
by Dan Bacher
Over 70 fishermen and their allies protested against Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's controversial Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative before the California Fish and Game Commission meeting on Wednesday, October 20, at the Sheraton 4 Points Hotel in San Diego.
"Recreational anglers, divers, kayakers, tackle shop owners, business owners and two members of the MLPA Regional Stakeholders Group protested outside of the hotel from 8:30 am until 9:30 am to demonstrate the level of grassroots support for sustainable fisheries management instead of overly large out and out closures," said protest organizer Wendy Tochihara.
"It was critical to point out to the public the 'perfectly transparent, clearly illegal MLPA process,'" Tochihara emphasized. "We want to slow down this process so that we can get it right."
After the protest, the anglers moved inside for the Fish & Game Commission meeting that started at 10:00 am. Throughout the morning and afternoon, the Commission heard testimony from fishermen, environmentalists and the public regarding proposals for the network of "marine protected areas" that will be imposed in state waters on the Southern California coast.
Tochihara estimated that over 1000 people, including both MLPA critics and supporters, attended the meeting. Over 800 speaker cards were filled out, although not everybody spoke.
Many recreational and commercial fishermen spoke out against the conflicts of interest and corruption that have proliferated under the initiative, a process that MLPA proponents claim is "open, inclusive and transparent."
Bob Fletcher, past president of the Sportfishing Association of California, asked the Commission to delay the decision on the South Coast marine protected area proposal until he receives the documents that he requested in a landmark lawsuit by United Anglers of Southern California and the Partnership for Sustainable Oceans.
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.
The ruling came in response to a lawsuit filed by Allen Matkins Leck Gamble Malloy & Natsis LLP, on behalf of Fletcher requesting the release of public records. Marlette, in a preliminary ruling, said the agencies must release all of the documents requested by Fletcher within 10 days.
However, Fletcher said he is still waiting for the records. "The judge hasn't issued the writ of mandate that triggers the 10-day period yet," said Fletcher.
MLPA critics have charged initiative officials with violating the California Public Records Act, California Fair Political Practices Act, Bagley-Keene Open Meetings Act, American Indian Religious Freedom Act, UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People and other state, federal and international laws.
Two Commissioners, Michael Sutton and Dan Richards, argued over the cost of the MLPA Initiative during the meeting. Sutton claimed the total cost of the marine protected area network will be around $11 million a year for monitoring, enforcement, and public outreach, based on information provided by the MLPA Blue Ribbon Task Force. Richards countered that the cost is actually $40 million a year, based on information provided to the Commission by the Department of Fish and Game.
On California's North Coast, opposition to the MLPA has spurred the creation of one of the largest political movements since the Redwood Summer of 1990. On July 21, over 300 people including members of over 50 Indian Nations, recreational anglers, environmentalists, immigrant seafood industry workers, seaweed harvesters and human rights advocates peacefully took control of an MLPA Blue Ribbon Task Force meeting in Fort Bragg to protest the violation of sovereign tribal rights under the initiative. They chanted, "MLPA, Taking Tribal Rights Away" and "No Way, MLPA" as they marched from the streets of Fort Bragg into the meeting room.
“The MLPA process completely disregards tribal gathering rights and only permits discussion of commercial and recreational harvest," said Frankie Myers, Yurok Tribal member and Coastal Justice Coalition activist on July 21. "The whole process is inherently flawed by institutionalized racism. It doesn’t recognize Tribes as political entities, or Tribal biologists as legitimate scientists."
The MLPA Initiative has already imposed so-called marine protected areas (MPAs) on the Central Coast and North Central Coast - and is now in the final stages of creating networks of MPAs on the South Coast and North Coast. The Commission is expected to adopt the final set of South Coast marine protected areas on December 15, after the Environmental Impact Report documents are completed by the DFG.
Meanwhile, the North Coast BRTF will meet on Monday, October 25 and Tuesday, October 26 at the River Lodge Conference Center in Fortuna to approve a proposal for a network of marine protected areas to send to the Fish and Game Commission for approval. In contrast with other areas of the state, fishermen, Tribes and environmentalists agreed on a unified MPA proposal that respects tribal gathering and fishing rights.
Fishermen, environmentalists and Tribes have blasted the MLPA Initiative for taking oil drilling, water pollution, aquaculture, military testing, habitat destruction and all other human uses of the ocean other than fishing and gathering off the table in the creation of marine protected areas.
The initiative is funded by a private corporation, the Resources Legacy Fund Foundation. MLPA critics point out that the Blue Ribbon Task Force that oversees the implementation of the MLPA includes oil industry, real estate, marina development and other special interests.
In fact, Catherine Reheis-Boyd, who chaired the South Coast MLPA Blue Ribbon Task Force and sits on the North Coast BRTF, is the president of the Western States Petroleum Association. She has called for new oil drilling off the California coast in recent months, in spite of the environmental and economic devastation to the Gulf of Mexico caused by the BP Blue Water Horizon oil gusher.
For more information about the MLPA and upcoming meetings, go to: http://www.dfg.ca.gov/mlpa.
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