|A story concerning the MLPA and what MIGHT happen (three different endings). Written in 2007 when I was on the North Central Coast Stakeholders Committee —
Long version w/pictures—
Short version —
MLPA and the Emerald Waters —
North Coast 2027
Alan ducked his head as another bit of salty ocean sweat lashed his face. It was a black brow’d night and the sea seemed to be in a snarly, growly sort of mood. It wasn’t a pleasant night to be strolling on the beach near Gualala but habits are hard to break and Alan had taken a walk on the beach almost every night for twenty years. Small bits of sea salad and big clumps of bull kelp were pushed ashore by the incoming tide but he had learned to walk quite gingerly many, many years before. The flotsam and jetsam that washed ashore were amazing, sad, and sometimes dangerous. Shoreline detritus that seemingly was settled safely in the thirsty sand could trip you up while unsuspected waves could knock you down; Mother Ocean sometimes had her temper fits.
But Alan knew the beach. He knew the gnarly old cypress tree that would grab unsuspecting visitors with its scaly limbs. He knew the hollow log that harbored a family of unwelcoming skunks. He knew the shallow stream that looked so safe but harbored a spot of quicksand so soft that it could swallow up an intruder as fast as the more famous sands protecting Mont. Saint-Michel. And he knew when it was time to leave.
His mood was strange this night, and perhaps a little too muddled due to the pale ale, but the mood seemed to fit the weather. He stopped and studied the sliver of a moon that peeked behind the clouds (peek a boo, I see you!). Most nights he might have given thought as to the beauty and majesty of the sea but not this night. Tonight was an anniversary and slowly he remembered back to the night of the tent, the miracles, and the conversions.
It was a night long remembered by those who were there, but the story and its conclusions seemed so different as to be almost surreal. In Alan’s mind the only appropriate analogy was religion and the faith that is needed in any religion. Only faith can accommodate the travails and uncertainties that accompany a journey, and only faith could sustain those that had stood, hand in hand, under the tent that night.
But faith to be effective must be complete and unswerving; the faith evinced that night was spontaneous, immature and uneven. So too were the subsequent results. Did a lack of faith cause the uneven results or did the skepticism only reflect reality and the weakness of what is, after all, an often necessary but blind faith? That conundrum is, of course, unanswerable.
North Coast 2007
Life along the North Coast was inexorably tied to the region’s geography: the ocean, the redwoods, the rolling hills and the distance from populated centers of activity. There was a time when fish and fishing were a steady and sometimes profitable business adventure. For many, the profitable part of the equation had ended years ago even while the passion and love of the ocean, its fish, and fishing remained. Most fishermen were resigned to their fate, simply hopeful to hang on until it was their choice to retire.
Logging was much the same. Most of the big trees were now gone, or preserved in parks; the slender stalks now taken for lumber were trees that the old timers would have ignored. Loggers now knew that many of their practices had been wrong and they had been forced to change. But the new regulations made it harder each year and, like the fishermen, few saw their way of life being handed down to the younger generation.
Agriculture remained strong but it too had changed. Once, small farms had grown apples, pears, prunes and hops; ranches had raised sheep and cattle. The farms and ranches were family enterprises and the children could be expected to carry on the family tradition. That tradition had ended.
The sons and daughters of Mendocino and Sonoma, at least most, were now faced with low paying jobs catering to the rich tourists who oohed and awed in the cathedral forests by the sea. The visitors would stop at the wineries that had replaced the apple orchards, stay at the country inns that had replaced the sheep ranches, and perhaps even sample some of the local pot—the one industry that seemed impervious to governmental control. Pot had become a big business and the source of cash for those unwilling or unable to live in the service economy becoming predominant in the region. New jobs, good paying jobs, were few and far between.
Life too could be a little different in an area where the nearest shopping center was two hours away, where people had to be sent by helicopter to the hospital, where cell phone reception was virtually non-existent. In many ways the emerald triangle on the North Coast was akin to the Appalachians—beautiful, distant and lacking in amenities—while providing a squalid existence for many, a rich existence for a few. It was true that the area was also populated by a diverse group of artists, writers, and “brains” that could compete against many urban settings. It was also the weekend retreat for some of the wealthiest families in the world. Unfortunately though, the average person growing up in the area, especially if they were a member of the older, middle class families that had arrived in the early to mid 1900s, seemed stuck in a life offering little in the way of hope for the future.
Hope though was the message promised one morning in a flyer sitting next to the cash register at the Ab Shell, the local coffee shop where the regulars met to caffeinate their minds before the grinds of the day. The flyer showed a tent, and a truck, and on the side of the truck were the words “Signs, Wonders, and Miracles.” A large sign in front of the tent showed a picture of the ocean and a setting sun with rays emanating from the sun. Above the sun were the words “Salvation & Healing.” A box at the bottom of the flyer announced the fact that “Manifest Life and Precious Acts” would be coming to town on October 15 at the headlands. 7 PM don’t miss it! Encapsulating the entire contents was a stream of fish that included the species common to the area. Nowhere was religion even mentioned but Lucas assumed that was the gig. He rolled his eye and decided he could do without the flyer or the meeting.
But later, when he stopped by the small post office to pick up his mail, he noticed another flyer on a nearby pole. He walked over, gave it a quick glance and then tore it down from the pole. Doubtful, but somewhat curious, he stuck it in his pocket.
He had forgotten about the flyer when he returned home that night but upon emptying his pockets found the flyer. “Connie come here, look at this.” His wife was as doubtful as Lucas but she did say it might be more interesting than simply plopping down in front of the TV, their all too frequent form of nightly entertainment. Lucas had to agree.
October 15 was a cold and blustery day with an early rain and though he considering going up to the point and putting the boat in the water the group at the Ab Shell convinced him it didn’t make much sense. Conditions were bad, in fact dangerous, and he wouldn’t catch any fish in this water. Maybe he could do a few of the “honey do” projects that always seemed to be pushed to the back burner until they were forgotten—at least forgotten by Lucas.
Back home he took a quick glance at the logs piled near the house and silently cursed himself; it might be too small a stack if it was going to be a long winter. Plus, now that the rain had started, it was going to be a little hard getting to his cuttin’ spot. But it was just one more thing in a litany of bad luck projects that was beginning to wear him down.
Soon he had a roaring fire going in the fireplace and the coffee was a brewing. He decided to attack the stack of bills that sat on the mantle place. It wasn’t a matter of paying the bills, it was a matter of deciding which bills could be paid. What was it the guy had told him about not being late with his payments? It was easy to give Lucas that advice, he wasn’t the one who had to pay the bills. Soon Lucas began to wonder if a couple of beers might be better than the coffee.
That night, when Connie returned home from work she found a house that was a little too warm and a husband that had apparently worn himself out paying bills. Lucas was curled on the couch with the dog and both were snoring up a storm. She hated to wake him but they had to get ready for the show.
On the headland above the beach set an old-fashioned tent, a revival tent that duplicated those that had occasionally visited the area back in the ‘50s. It was a new concept to Lucas and reminded him of the circus tent in Dumbo, although he was pretty sure he wasn’t going to see any big-eared elephants flying around. At least, he told himself, he wasn’t going to see no floppy-eared beasts until later that night when he was home and was samplin’ his recent gift of imported brews. He chuckled.
Two tall poles held the tent aloft and a series of bright, white lights hung in streams from the poles, encircling the tent itself. The effect was startling; it almost seemed like Christmas had come early to the town. Next to the tent set the truck Lucas had seen in the flyer along with its promises—“Signs, Wonders, and Miracles.” Amazing to Luke was the small miracle already in evidence. The weatherman had predicted a deluge from a trans-Pacific “Pineapple Express,” a storm that would continue unabated for at least three to four days and drop 6-9 inches of rain on the Mendocino redwoods. Instead, the rains had stopped and a beautiful sunset with not one but two rainbows backed the tent. On the highest pole sat a large seabird, a type unknown to Lucas.
Looking around it seemed like the whole town had made the pilgrimage to the headlands and the tent. Included were several of their friends. Near the entrance stood his fishing buds—Josh, Mike, Jay, Paul and Flatland Jim. Birdman Bob, Sam, and Doc formed a trio by the inner section of the seats while Craig, Kellyx, and Irina were talking to a longhaired lady wearing a simple robe. A number of young people, also wearing robes, were scattered about the tent helping people to find seats. Saints and sinners, all were there.
Lucas and Connie decided to sit near the back, they weren’t exactly sure what to expect and wanted to be able to leave unnoticed if they so desired. They could see their friends after the show.
On the stage were an assortment of instruments—a piano, several guitars, a violin, an accordion, and several tambourines. It looked like there would at least be a little music. Hanging above the stage was a banner declaring “Manifest Life and Precious Acts.”
It took a while but soon the curious, the seekers, and the believers filled the tent. There too were the agnostic and non-believers, those who wanted proof before commitment. Lucas wondered what would follow. Soon the lights flickered and the attendants hurried to the stage to grab the myriad instruments that had littered the stage.
Almost immediately the lights went out except for a sole spotlight focused on the young and energetic group on stage that performed a number of songs, all non-religious but containing a common theme—love and the coastal environment. Lucas was now truly confused but decided the music was good so why leave?
After roughly thirty minutes of music the lights were turned back on and instead of a collection plate the attendants passed around refreshments for the entire audience. Lucas wasn’t quite sure what the liquid was in the glass but it tasted good and gave him a slight buzz; nothing wrong with that.
Again the lights flickered, glasses were collected, and the attendants scattered to the edge of the tent before darkness once again descended on the mass.
A bright spotlight shone on the stage and now a single figure appeared on the stage: a man slight in physical stature but somehow exuding confidence and strength. His hair was a jet black and his suit was white with a huge lapis lazuli-colored ring on one finger that matched his shirt. In his hand was a book, perhaps a Bible, but Lucas couldn’t really tell.
He started speaking but his delivery was so low that the crowd, almost in unison, leaned forward to hear his words. “I am Brother John, but you can call me The Fisherman for I am a fisher of folk, and I am here to help you meet your dreams. We ask nothing tonight but your belief and commitment. No tithes will be collected but your commitment will be judged. Only you can decide your fate but I can show you the way to unsuspected wealth—if you but have faith.”
Lucas noticed that the man’s delivery was now stronger and he held the crowd’s undivided attention. “My brothers and sisters the choice is yours, you can decide to let your lives drift along, confronting obstacles along the path of life, sometimes defeating those obstacles, sometimes suffering defeat. Or, we can walk the path together and follow the plan. For some, you may suffer a slight pain at first but soon you will happy and as rich in life as Minos and Pasiphaë in ancient Crete. But your power will not come from an ancient God like Zeus; your power will come from within because you, and only you, hold the power to change the future. Just listen and follow our plan—Manifest Life and Precious Acts.”
Immediately the lights were extinguished and a series of maps were revealed on a hereto hidden screen. The maps showed an area well know to Lucas, the adjacent coastline, and on the maps were some areas marked MPAs while others were left untouched. “My brothers and sisters, your waters have had less and less fish for the past century and you who rely on those waters have had less and less profit for your endeavors. Some of you continue to journey out into the Pacific but all too often those who return do so with meager catch; life just gets harder and harder. Let us rebuild the stocks!” Lucas nodded his head to that, he sometimes wondered how long he would be able to keep his boat and do his fishing given the increasing regulations, the strict limits, and decreasing catch combined with increasing costs. Could this man’s plan work?
The fervor of John’s delivery increased and now his hands stabbed the air in staccato fashion while sweat poured from his brow. His eyes seemed to glow as he described the benefits to be gained from his plan and he nearly shouted—“just have faith!” The message was repeated time and again as if in a mantra: “Anything can happen if you simply believe. Have faith and give heart to the acts and the acts will multiply and bring you unimagined peace and wealth. Just believe, have faith and the goodness of the acts will bath you and comfort you. Accept and you will be at peace.” Tears streamed down the face of John as he spoke and his arms stretched out to the audience that he now held in his grip.
The lights now were returned and Lucas saw that John had been joined by the longhaired lady—Sister Melissa, as well as many that he soon would know—Ken, Scott, Eric, Susan, Mary, and others too numerous to list. They held out their hands and gestured for those in the audience to join them down at the stage where the commitment and conversions took place.
Lucas noticed many of his friends heading down to the alter. Sam, Birdman Bob, Doc and Frederick led the pack while usually cautious Karen followed at a slight distance. They were joined by Craig, Kellyx, and Irina. All were soon in animated discussion with the staff from “Manifest Life and Precious Acts.”
Lucas had always been slow to accept the admonitions of others; he preferred to work out life’s mysteries in his own fashion. But now he was drawn to the front, his legs moving his body while his mind seemed to question what was going on. Was it hypnosis, did the drink somehow affect his reasoning, or had the message simply contained too much truth—as well as hope—to allow him to sit back? Connie too steered to the front holding the hand of Lucas tightly in her grip. He noticed Josh, Jay, Paul and Flatland Jim in heated discussion near the back but noticed Mike had slowly journeyed to the stage.
He was soon engaged in harmonious if not ecstatic conversation with the staff but his questions were few; if you have faith you do not ask questions. He did ask about the miracles and the healing. Melissa said, “they will come my brother Lucas, they will come.” At last the tearful group kneeled down and, in a quiet prayer led by Brother John, committed themselves to do the work of the Manifest Life and Precious Acts.” If John was the prophet, they were his believers, if not disciples.
As if in a daze, Lucas rose and joined the congregation as it began to exit the tent. The drive home was quiet and mechanical; later he would not even remember getting into the car or the drive itself. At home Luke and Connie simply kissed before Connie prepared for bed. Lucas sat before the home fire until nearly 3AM in the morning without ever saying a word or sipping a drink of the imported brews he had so seemingly coveted.
True believers—Go to Ending #1
Agnostics—GO to Ending #2
Disbelievers—Go to Ending #3
Ending #1—North Coast 2027
Lucas looked down from the bridge of the Falcon and laughed as his daughter bridged the short distance to the wharf. The season was nearly over and one more full load was ready to be unloaded at the landing. Lucas tossed Leia the rope; bollard and boat were soon connected. Leia was as good a fisherman as any in the fleet and though he hated to lose his first mate, he would soon have a present for her on her 21st birthday, a new boat. Leia did not know it but soon there would also be a new company, L&L Fishers, which he hoped would help insure her future in the industry.
That night as he sipped his wine he thought back to that night twenty years previous when the town had placed their hope in a silly dream. But the dream had come true; the offshore reserves had led to the rebirth of the coastal stocks of fish—and the rebirth of the fishing fleet. True they never took as many fish as the “old” days but the fishing was consistent and the fish were of a good size. In addition, other species and organisms also seemed to thrive; the entire ocean seemed to become more alive and vibrant.
The reserves along with the sensible regulations allowed men like Luke to make a good living. And, they allowed the sons and daughters to stay in the area and make a good living as well.
Lucas had experienced some doubts but had also been willing to make commitment. What was the choice? He had known that to continue down the same path that his father and other fishermen had followed would probably lead to nothing but loss. And while it had taken a few years, he had been able to see the young fish and soon knew that the reverend was right.
The growth in the ocean in many ways mirrored the growth of his young daughter. Only one year old at the time of the meeting, Leia had grown beautiful over the years, from a gangly young girl to a young but mature woman. Her physical beauty was apparent but only those who knew her knew of her inner beauty, her goodness and the richness that defined her thought and action. Lucas could not explain how his daughter had become such a wonderful person but wonderful she was, and he loved her as only a father can love a daughter.
He thought in many ways it was the same for the reserves. It had taken a few years but now the waters in those reserves were beautiful to behold. He could see it from his boat but was also amazed at the pictures that the divers were able to show of the undersea life in all its God-like manifestations.
He was glad that he had visited that tent, made that commitment, and shared in the acts that were able to help his world become more beautiful.
Ending #2—North Coast 2027
Josh stared out at the grays, mother and child, heading by the point on their way to Alaska. Josh loved the ocean and the variety of life it held but he no longer spent his days on that ocean. His boat, Palo, was one more victim of the decrease in the number of commercially accessible fish; a decrease that had remained unabated regardless of the reserves and the draconian regulations intended to help.
He had once hoped that the marine protected areas that had been established along his stretch of coast would bring the fish back and allow commercial fishermen like himself to once again fish for a living.
But while the reserves did indeed seem to now hold a few big fish, there was never the anticipated benefit to nearby areas. Instead, the increased number of larval fish was simply consumed by the avian hordes that had increased dramatically under the protection of the reserves. The bigger fish were simply consumed by the increasing number of pinnipeds (seals and sea lions) that also lived under a variety of protection acts and regulations.
The reserves had helped some species of fish but the numbers had never increased to such a level that fishermen were able to benefit—neither commercial guys like Josh or the hum-drum recreational guys out in their weekend craft. Some improvement, but not nearly enough to help the fishermen. The result was a not-so-gradual decrease in the number of fishermen along the coast; indeed it seemed the only species to suffer from the reserves was the human species.
What Josh regretted most was the loss of his son Kyle. Oh he was still around, but he had been forced to choose a different career even though he had worked on the family boat throughout his youth. He too loved the sea but was forced to take a job inland. When you have a family you have to support them and fishing no longer was seen as sufficient support. Josh regretted the fact that he would never be able to turn the Palo over to his son or perhaps see a Palo II but those days were over.
Better to move on and try not to be bitter but it seemed that the deck had perhaps been stacked against him from the start. Yes, there were some improvements in nearby waters, but the only ones to benefit seemed to be the sea birds and the sea dogs. Unless of course you also counted the big time commercial boats that fished outside the waters and had taken over the contracts once given to the locals.
Artisan anglers like Josh were no longer needed but would instead become the center of attention at various coastal museums. In an old building near the Bolinas Lagoon was a room devoted to what had once been the Bolinas Fleet, a diverse mixture of boats mostly small in stature; a mosquito fleet able to traverse the waters and treacherous depths encountered along this wild coast. Amidst the pictures under glass was one of the Palo. On the bow stood a much younger Josh holding up a large king salmon and grinning like a kid. People would stare at the picture and marvel at the size of the fish. Perhaps a better picture would have been the one taken the day his boat had been sold. There was no grin that day.
Ending #3—North Coast 2027
Jim had long wondered about that bird he had seen on the tent back in’07. Then one day up at the pier by the point he saw a sign and a picture of an albatross, a Laysan Albatross. Perhaps it had been a warning but few had heeded the sign.
Jim had never trusted the MPAs and his belief had been proven right. On-shore practices continued to degrade the streams while wineries and their vineyards sucked up the available water; local salmon and steelhead were history.
The increasing population in the area, along with the refuse from the numberless tourists, had led to problems of pollution in the ocean waters themselves. Alien species, stronger and more destructive than the native species, had been allowed to crowd out natives.
Wave energy machines effectively created new reserves that blocked off considerable swathes of water originally left free of MPAs. Prohibition on boats going through the reserves had even led to new federal laws and longer trips for the boats and tankers even though it meant additional fuel and pollution. Threats had even been made in regard to the possible “problems” presented by the overseas cable linking Point Arena and the Hawaiian islands.
Preferential treatment for ‘da birds, ‘da seals, and ‘da great whites had led to total reserves that helped those species while hurting no species but one—the human species. “No noise” disturbance had eventually led to no molestation. Eventually many reserves allowed no human interaction of any type—fishing, diving, sight seeing by boat or kayak, etc. Even the “eco tours” and whale watching boats had been restricted and most had gone out of business.
Jim had given up diving and fishing many years ago; the risk just didn’t seem to warrant the effort. Although the reserves had not produced the increase in fish as promised, their placement had resulted in an increase in the number of accidents. Many boaters now had to make longer trips outside the reserves and had to run “against” the wind and currents as they returned to their ports. Treacherous conditions along with the always-unpredictable fog in the region had led to many deaths. On shore, several easy-access, safe-terrain areas had been lost and as happens people had tried to use different access points. Many of the new areas were less safe. Unfortunately, the areas were also unsafe terrain for the rescue personnel and this often led to fatal delays.
It just wasn’t worth it! Society had become an assemblage of dilettantes content to watch the ocean from afar. Access now meant the ability to see the ocean, not feel, experience, and love it. It was TV life as far as Jim was concerned. He just didn’t care any more. As far as he was concerned you could build a huge fence across the coast and declare it all a no use zone. He didn’t care, or at least that’s what he told himself and others!
But the moisture in Jim’s eyes betrayed his heart. Someone once wrote that the human condition seems to demand broken hearts. And while Jim could posture disinterest with imagined puffery, his heart and those tears betrayed the lie.
His thoughts turned to the lyrics of one of his favorite songs: “This Land Is Your Land.”
“This land is your land, this land is my land
From California to the New York Island
From the Redwood Forest to the Gulf Stream waters
This land was made for you and me.”
Jim guessed those days were over, wondered if good old Woody Guthrie was turning over in his grave, and wondered most of all how he had allowed this to happen.
Written in 2007 following a MLPA meeting held in the North Coast town of Gualala — Dedicated to my friends on the “Emerald Team” as well as those on the larger committee who tried to make sense out of the proposals and counter proposals during our time as members of the Stakeholders Group of the California North Central Coast Marine Life Protection Act Committee in 2007-2008. We often had opposing views, and heated arguments were not uncommon, but we emerged as friends who respected one another even while we agreed to disagree. It’s rare today to see such diverse groups and proponents of such varied views willing to work together and try to reach consensus, but for once it worked. Ultimately we still disagreed on many issues but at least we did agree on one thing—respect for the fellow committee members.
Emerald members: Bob Breen (Marine biology teacher), Josh Churchman (Commercial fisherman, Bolinas), Henry Fastenau (Boating Safety Officer, Bodega Marine Laboratory), Rick Johnson (Docent, Tomales Bay), Ken Jones (President United Pier and Shore Anglers of California), Irena Kogan (Resource Protection Specialist, Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary), Samantha Murray (Program Manager, Ocean Conservancy), Kellyx Nelson (Executive Director, San Mateo County Resource Conservation District), Paul Pierce (Member, Coastside Fishing Club), Craig Swolgaard (Environmental Scientist, California Deptartment of Parks and Recreation), Jay Yokomizo (Captain, Emeryville Sportfishing
Other KEY Committee members (some who appear in the story) — Richard Charter (Defenders of Wildlife), Karen Garrison (Co-Director, Natural Resources Defense Council Ocean Program), Tom Mattusch (Captain, Huli Cat), Don Neubacher, (Superintendant, Point Reyes National Seashore), Santi Roberts (California Project Manager, Oceana), Ben Slkeeter, (Political Advocate/Scientist, Coastside Fishing Club), Frederick Smith (Executive Director, Environmental Action Committee of West Marin), Ed Travasieff (Secretary, Pacific Fisheries Enhancement Foundation), Robert Wilson (Policy Liaison, Marine Mammal Center)
KEY MLPA Staff members (some who appear in the story) — Melissa Miller-Henson (MLPAI), Scott McCreary (CONCUR), Eric Poncelet (CONCUR), John Ugoretz (Lead Science Advisor, Marine Biologist, California Department of Fish and Game), Ken Wiseman (MLPA Initiative Executive Director)
Also in the story — Jim Martin (West Coast Regional Director, The Recreational Fishing Alliance)
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Last edited by Ken Jones on Sat Feb 04, 2012 11:35 am; edited 1 time in total