|Fishing closures unclear MLPAI's final month
By FRANK HARTZELL Staff Writer -
Updated: 08/05/2010 08:02:05 AM PDT
After more than 40 hours of meetings in just a week's time, the Marine Life Protection Act Initiative (MLPAI) process in Fort Bragg ended last Friday without producing the expected map of proposed closed areas off the Mendocino Coast.
That frustrated the two dozen members of the Regional Stakeholders Group (RSG) on hand, several of whom blamed the MLPAI's facilitation process for keeping them from getting down to business over the past six months.
"We are rehashing over and over what we already know. We came here to get some work done and that's not happening," said Valerie Stanley, of Fort Bragg, who represents the Noyo River Pomo community on the RSG.
The RSG met for two eight-hour days on Thursday and Friday. Wednesday was a full day meeting of the Science Advisory Team (SAT). The previous week had two full days of meetings of the Blue Ribbon Task Force (BRTF).
In a process used by MLPAI along the entire coast of California, local people on the RSG create proposed maps of areas of the ocean to close or restrict to fishing. The advisory team then gives feedback to the RSG — through MLPAI staff — on how the maps meet the science guidelines. The task force, which makes the final recommendation based on the work of the RSG, also weighs in throughout the process.
"We are still talking about the same things as we were in our first meeting. We just have a few more arrays on the table," said Greg Dale, RSG member and operations manager for Coast
Those arrays were the result of work outside the process by certain members on the marine map computer program and are yet to be vetted by the larger group, he said. The existing arrays can be seen online at www.dfg.ca.gov/mlpa/mpaproposals_nc.asp.
Others described the process as cookie cutter in which the final map was mostly pre-determined.
"You stuff us into such a corner with the SAT guidelines, of course you get what you want, which is to add more area and more area. In the end we have to go along and you say the idea came from us, when it didn't," said Kevin McGrath, the RSG member representing the Shelter Cove Fisherman's Alliance.
MLPAI Executive Director Ken Wiseman explained to McGrath that a map that does not fit the Science Advisory Team guidelines can indeed become part of the final maps, if the reasoning for that is made clear.
Wiseman gave an example of waters off a harbor in Southern California that escaped recommended closures because locals argued doing so would cause safety issues and economic damage.
While the Blue Ribbon Task Force might not point where to put arrays, they hold a firm hand on having enough new closed areas to meet their science guidelines. The task force warned the RSG last week that if it did not improve its work and produce maps with more closed areas, the task force would step in.
"If the NCRSG's ... proposal(s) do not meet the science guidelines to the extent possible, recognizing that in some areas habitat distribution precludes meeting the science guidelines, the BRTF may be forced to consider modifying the proposal(s)," a task force resolution said.
Wiseman said similar resolutions have been passed in the other regions, a needed last push of the stakeholders toward the science guidelines.
The RSG came back together last week for the first time, at the meeting in Fort Bragg, after a controversial splitting of the group facilitated by MLPAI staff earlier in the year. Over the past several months, the two groups each came up with at least two separate sets of arrays.
Mendocino High School of Natural Resources teacher Robert Jamgochian, like each of the panelists who spoke near the end of the day on Friday, was frustrated that the RSG had been unable to boil down the many proposals.
"I was hoping we would have something concrete to take back and show to our constituents, and that is not going to happen," Jamgochian said.
Environmentalists, Native American and fishing industry representatives said they would rather be arguing among themselves than sitting and listening as a group.
"I'd rather slug [protections in the 10 Mile Beach area] out right now," said Jennifer Savage, North Coast program coordinator for The Ocean Conservancy, getting applause from fellow stakeholders. "Then go back and try to resolve questions later with emails."
"We just wasted a day and a half," said RSG member Tom Trumper, owner of Pacific Rim Seafood in Fort Bragg.
"We could have had the entire Southern Region [Mendocino and part of Humboldt County] done by today."
The RSG listened to Science Advisory Team presentations all day Thursday, large parts of which had been given at last week's task force meetings. Not all RSG members had been at that meeting. Marine Ecologist Satie Airame evaluated for the RSG how well proposed maps were fitting advisory team guidelines.
RSG member Kevin McKernan, California program director of the National Conservation System, said time is being wasted and much is getting lost in the translation.
"The Science Advisory Team evaluation presentation is a huge waste of time, said McKernan.
"I am almost at the point of not having any more SAT involvement, I know we don't get to make that decision. But why not just have the BRTF and RSG sit down face to face? I feel the SAT is an academic body that doesn't feel our input is valuable even though they say it is," said McKernan.
One common criticism was that the facilitation team hired by MLPAI staff was too controlling.
"I too am very frustrated. I believe the facilitation team is leading the discussion and has taken power from the RSG. We are sitting in this room wanting to take action and you are preventing us from doing this," said RSG member Atta Stevenson, acting president of the Inter-Tribal Council of California and representing the Laytonville Rancheria.
"I feel we wasted a huge amount of time and being forced to break into two groups and create different proposals. Every time I show up something is different... the moving target is very frustrating," said McKernan.
Some praised the work of the facilitators.
"I want to say that Ken and the rest of the MLPAI staff did some things right. One thing they did right is select a great group of stakeholders," said Tim Klassen, owner of Reel Steel Sportfishing.
But Klassen said he too was disappointed in this particular meeting.
"We are feeling like you have a Ferrari here in the RSG and you are driving it like a Volkswagen. With a little bit of effort we could get somewhere," Klassen said.
But no matter what the facilitators would have done, it was hard to envision how a committee of 30, faced with such a mountain of procedural and scientific information, could have satisfied all the procedural requirements and put the science through the ringer of the Science Advisory Team in the time allotted.
Bill Lemos, representing the National Resources Defense Council, was most worried about advisory team findings that none of the arrays provided high levels of protection and contained gaps in the protection of beaches, kelp and shallow, hard-bottomed terrain. The amount of coast completely closed off by the arrays created by the two groups ranges from 2.8 percent to 7.2 percent. The overall closures equal in the 10 to 12 percent range, Wiseman said.
During the public comment session, even more ideas were suggested to the RSG.
Rex Gressett, who has steadily attacked the fishing industry for having too much influence in the process, says the ocean needs bigger and more closed areas. Gressett has painted his Volkswagen Beetle with a giant "MLP YES" and told anyone who would listen his view of the distortion of the process.
"Private interests have overwritten the primary objective which is protection of the ocean ... I hope you will increase the protected area to the scientific minimum which is 18 percent... that should be rock bottom," Gressett said.
Wiseman wasn't sure where Gressett had gotten the 18 percent number, but said there is no preset percentage of the coast to be closed through the process.
Gressett said the Blue Ribbon Task Force should overrule local proposals and enact the high level of (fishing only) closures that the ocean needs.
"It's odd that I'm advocating less democracy but in this case, that's what I'm suggesting," Gressett said.
The MLPAI staff responded to criticism in the media and by the Mendocino County Board of Supervisors about adherence to public meeting rules. The MLPAI eliminated its rules blocking photography and public participation at RSG meetings. A handout explained the time for the public to speak, and detailed the place for photography.
That problem fixed, a major new problem emerged. In the North Central Coast Region, (Point Arena south to Marin) the process entirely closed a strip of private property that Native Americans had historically used for traditional gathering. That necessitated the California Fish and Game Commission recently reopening that MLPAI regions' finalized maps and converting that area from maximum to minimum protection. However, doing so shifted the entire connected offshore arrays in such a way that pressure is being put on to create more closed areas on this region, called the North Coast (from Point Arena to the Oregon border).
Stakeholder Adam Wagschal, representing the Humboldt Bay Harbor District, said it seemed unfair to solve the newly reopened North Central Coast problems solely in the North Coast region.
"Why we would assume it is up to us up here, to make up for that lost MPA?" he said.
Another complicating factor is that while some tribes have participated in the process, other tribal members have refused to provide information and asserted that the MLPAI has no authority to regulate rights they feel were granted in treaties with the federal government.
Native American representatives said many problems could have been avoided had they been at the table when the MLPAI was planned. There was speculation that because the MLPAI was clearly conceived in Southern California, where there are far fewer tribes, and because Indians have exercised their gathering with little fanfare or publicity, the entire matter took the MLPAI by surprise.
Many said the best way to go was to simply operate as if the Native American rights issue would be resolved by the state Legislature. Trying to account for so many unknown factors about natives is contorting the process, several RSG members said.
"They want us to bend over backwards to make something work here, but they are bending science," said RSG member Jim Bassler, a commercial fisherman.
Fort Bragg Mayor Doug Hammerstrom was in the audience at the four days of local meetings, having been appointed recently to a fifth MLPAI panel, the Statewide Interests Group (SIG). Fortunately, SIG has no meetings to add another ingredient to the MLPAI's acronym soup.
Hammerstrom, an attorney, told the MLPAI staff at the RSG meeting that an attorney specializing in Indian law should have been involved in the entire process, not brought in at the end. He said the MLPAI should immediately employ an outreach person with cross cultural sensitivity and the Scientific Advisory Team should find a Native American member.
Hammerstrom pointed out that the MLPAI comes with a narrow perspective that fails not just to consider Native ideas and sustainable uses, but broadly targeting all fishing.
In Northern California, factory fishing and fish farms have been broadly opposed by sustainable fishers and environmentalists. Some expressed concerns that defining closed areas would create new opportunities for overuse and ocean developers in the open areas.
Gabriel Quinn, who has been a consistent observer of the process, told the MLPAI that the no change "zero option" would be best for the ocean.
"I have often heard, would you rather be dealing with bureaucrats than us? My answer is yes, I love my government. I'd much rather be talking to Fish and Game than a privatization of this process .... If I thought creating new lines on the map would protect marine life I'd be all for it. One problem is law enforcement," Quinn said.
With the new problem created late in the process by the emergency reopening of the North Central Coast Region, is there any flexibility in the timeline that requires the RSG and SAT to be done with their work by the end of August, this reporter asked.
Wiseman said the money available (of an unknown total provided by the private foundations) would run out, limiting any extension of the process.
Interviewed later, Wiseman said two days of additional meetings might cost $30,000.
Is the MLPAI willing to extend the timeline and seek the extra money?
Wiseman said that would depend on whether real progress was being made and whether the extension would truly help.
Under what authority has the timeline been so strictly enforced?
Wiseman said the process was purely advisory, but quipped that the timeline was 10 years ago (when the California Legislature passed the Marine Life Protection Act calling for a connected system of offshore parks).
Quinn pointed out after the meeting that had the law gone into effect in 1999, many of the fisheries management measures that went into effect in the past 10 years might not have happened. Those regulations, while irking many fishermen, are credited with preserving and reviving fish stocks.
The MLPAI uses a broader strategy widely lauded by scientists as better than single species management, protecting an entire ecosystem. But an even more recent scientific approach (on land) is to avoid closing off areas to humans where continued human management has been found to be crucial to the survival of the altered ecosystem.
Tribal members say they have always been part of the ocean ecosystem, as protectors and users. Undersea users led by Trumper have produced films featuring scientists who worry that closing off areas that have been subject to abalone and urchin harvesting could create problems such as "urchin barrens."
One more issue that has arisen recently in the MLPAI process is "special closures" involving spectacular offshore rocks and islands, mostly in Del Norte and Humboldt counties.
All the rocks themselves are already off limits to any kind of harvesting as part of the Bureau of Land Management's national landmark. But the Audubon Society sought fishing and access closures around the rocks, to keep from frightening birds. Many of the rocks have been turned white by the waste of millions of nesting, mating and resting birds over the decades.
The closures of donut areas around the rocks are too small to qualify as habitat protection under MLPAI rules and would exclude all users, including kayakers. Jim Martin, who is part of the MLPAI outreach team, said the matter should be handled by education.
"You don't want it to become a new crime to commit to bother a bird .... In many cases with fishing you don't want to get that close to the rocks anyway," he said.
Martin also recommended an area be created in the Mendocino Village offshore vicinity of GreenWave's proposed wave energy array that would make it clear that such a use isn't welcome in the midst of arrays.
Although six of eight RSG members asked for the opportunity to start the real negotiations of maps at Ten Mile Beach and work northward, the MLPAI facilitators decided that it would be better to start with the Del Norte County Northern region.
That resulted in most of the small Fort Bragg audience, including this reporter, leaving before the end of the final RSG meeting in Mendocino County.
The final Regional Stakeholders Group meeting is planned for Aug. 30 and 31 in Eureka, where RSG members will get the two full days to work, with no scientific presentations planned. Wiseman said a third day of meetings was also offered to the RSG that week. MLPAI staff also offered to schedule a mid-August meeting, he said.
Wiseman said the stakeholders are choosing to instead work in regional sub-groups, but the option was still available for more meetings this month.
At the end of August, RSG recommendations are set to move to the Blue Ribbon Task Force, who use those suggestions to compose their final recommendation to the California Fish and Game Commission, which actually creates the new fishing restricted areas and fishing closures.