By Dan Bacher
On August 17, the Partnership for Sustainable Oceans (PSO), a coalition of conservation and fishing industry organizations, announced that it "fully supports" the request by Assemblymember Wesley Chesbro to delay the implementation of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's fast-track Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative on the North Coast.
Chesbro recently asked California Resources Secretary Lester Snow for a six-month delay in the controversial process to allow more time to develop a plan that balances marine conservation with access for the public and traditional user groups. To date, Snow has not responded to Chesbro's request.
"I have met with Resources Secretary Lester Snow and strongly urged him to slow down the process and that no action be taken by the Blue Ribbon Task Force for at least six months to allow more time to develop a plan that protects marine life and balances the access rights of traditional user groups," Chesbro said. "I am confident that given enough time we can develop a workable solution between the fishing community, North Coast tribes and environmentalists. There has already been some movement in this direction. This is something that cannot be rushed."
Chesbro's request came in response to the increasing criticism of the MLPA Initiative by California Indian Tribes, fishermen, environmentalists and human rights advocates.
More than 300 people including members of 50 Indian Nations, environmentalists, immigrant sea urchin industry workers, recreational anglers, commercial fishermen, seaweed harvesters and community activists peacefully took over an MLPA Blue Ribbon Task Force meeting in Fort Bragg on July 21 to protest the violation of tribal fishing and gathering rights and corporate greenwashing under the MLPA process. This was the largest protest on the North Coast since the Redwood Summer of 1990.
"We are pleased to see Assemblymember Chesbro step forward and request a slowdown of the MLPA," said Steve Fukuto, president of United Anglers of Southern California, a PSO member. "It's also disheartening that we continue to see the same concerns voiced again and again over the way the MLPA is being implemented."
"From the outset, the MLPA has been plagued by rushed goals and deadlines before important questions are answered and necessary resources are available. Those of us in the South Coast are frustrated by the state's continued desire to railroad the MLPA process while our questions and concerns are ignored," stated Fukuto.
A news release from PSO said "While it is fully supportive of restoring California's marine fisheries, it has expressed concerns over the rushed nature by which the MLPA has been planned and implemented throughout California's Central Coast, North Coast, South Coast and, now, the North Coast."
The PSO continues to question how the state plans to pay for the estimated $40-60 million a year to monitor and enforce the network of marine protected areas (MPAs) created under the MLPA, especially given the state's current fiscal crisis. "In addition to these concerns, the North Coast phase of the MLPA has faced heightened opposition from Tribal groups over the potential takeover of tribal gathering rights and traditional fishing grounds," the release stated.
"As someone who has participated in the North Coast planning process and seen firsthand the challenges facing the stakeholders in coming to agreement, I applaud Assemblymember Chesbro for requesting the needed delay and urge Secretary Snow to grant the request," said Allen Sansano, Director of Fisheries Affairs for NorCal Kayak Anglers, a PSO member. "Without time to address the serious issues and conflicts facing the North Coast process, we will end up with a hurried MPA proposal that no one is happy with."
Sandy Cooney, spokesman for the California Natural Resources Agency, claimed that "there has been no formal request from Assemblymember Chesbro for an extension."
"Nonetheless, I do know that there have been conversations with the Assemblyman and his staff," said Cooney. "No decision, to grant or not grant an extension, had been made. You may remember that based upon a Chesbro request in late 2009 a six week extension, from mid-December 2009 to Feb. 1, 2010 was granted."
MLPA critics charge that the Marine Life Protection Act, a landpark law signed by Governor Gray Davis in 1998, has been eviscerated under the Schwarzenegger administration. They have blasted the initiative for taking oil drilling, water pollution, aquaculture, wave energy and all other human impacts on the ocean other than fishing and gathering off the table.
Initiative critics have also pointed out that the MLPA Blue Ribbon Task Forces, created by Schwarzenegger to remove Tribal members, fishermen and seaweed harvesters from the water in so-called "marine protected areas" (MPAs), are dominated by oil industry, marina development, real estate and other corporate representatives who have a direct stake in the designation of these MPAs.
In fact, the chair of the South Coast MLPA task force is Catherine Reheis-Boyd, the president of the Western States Petroleum Association. She also sits on the task North Coast task force and sat on the North Central Coast task force. In recent months she has called for new oil drilling off the California coast, in spite of the environmental and economic devastation caused by the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
A prominent environmental leader, Judith Vidaver, Chair of the Ocean Protection Coalition based in Mendocino County, asked for the resignation of Reheis-Boyd in her public testimony at the July 21 MLPA Blue Ribbon Task Force meeting.
"OPC respectively and regrettably requests that Catherine Reheis-Boyd voluntarily step down from her position on the Blue Ribbon Task Force (BRTF)," said Vidaver. "Oil and water do not mix - as we are daily being reminded by the disaster spewing in the Gulf."
"These Marine Protected Areas would allow for deep water drilling, yet would ban Tribal gathering," emphasized Frankie Joe Myers, organizer for the Coastal Justice Coalition and a Yurok Tribe ceremonial leader, in a news release on June 29.
As criticism of the MLPA Initiative is building among fishermen, Tribal members and environmentalists, Fukuto is urging anglers to contribute to the legal effort to challenge the MLPA.
"We urge anglers in the North Coast and throughout the state who are concerned with the nature in which the MLPA is being forced upon the public to step up and help us by donating to our legal effort to challenge this flawed process," added Fukuto. "We need all California anglers to donate what they can to protect their right to fish in the Ocean."
The recently formed Ocean Access Protection Fund will enable contributors to donate online through its website, OceanAccessProtectionFund.org. The purpose of the Fund, operated by the nonprofit group United Anglers of Southern California, is to provide the financial support necessary to maintain legal challenges involving the MLPA as well as future threats to recreational access to ocean and coastal waters.
Members of PSO include the American Sportfishing Association, Berkley Conservation Institute, supporting members of the Avalon Tuna Club, Coastside Fishing Club, International Game Fish Association, Kayak Fishing Association of California, National Marine Manufacturers Association, NorCal Kayak Anglers, Shimano Sport Fisheries Institute, Sportfishing Association of California, Southern California Marine Association, United Anglers of Southern California and Watermen's Alliance.