Halfway marine protection measure launched in California

  • Published on January 1st, 2012

MLPA South Coast mapSo-called marine protected areas (MPAs), created under the leadership of a big oil lobbyist, went into effect today, January 1, in Southern California ocean waters from Point Conception in Santa Barbara County to the U.S./Mexico border.

Representatives of the Department of Fish and Game, corporate “environmental” NGOs, the Western States Petroleum Association, Safeway Stores and other supporters of the privately funded Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative have reason to celebrate the beginning of the New Year with the implementation of these questionable “marine protected areas.”

Walmart Chairman Rob Walton, who has dumped millions into groups supporting the MLPA Initiative and similar efforts to privatize the oceans worldwide, is no doubt very pleased also with the implementation of this network of 50 MPAs. (http://www.counterpunch.org/2011/11/30/the-worst-of-the-one-percent)

This network includes 13 pre-existing MPAs retained at the northern Channel Islands and two special closures covering approximately 354 square miles of state waters and representing approximately 15 percent of the region.

In contrast, fishermen, grassroots conservationists, environmental justice advocates, civil liberties activists and those who care about openness and transparency in government and oppose the privatization of the public trust view January 1, 2002 as a dark day in California history. Unlike representatives of Wall Street-funded NGOs, respected environmental leaders including John and Barbara Stephens-Lewallen fiercely oppose the privatized MLPA Initiative overseen by ocean industrialists and corporate operatives.

There are five points that are key to understanding the truth about the alleged “marine protected areas” that went into effect in Southern California waters today.

First, these “marine reserves” were created by the MLPA “Blue Ribbon Task Force” for the South Coast chaired by Catherine Reheis-Boyd, the president of the Western States Petroleum Association. Reheis-Boyd is a big oil industry lobbyist with an egregious conflict of interest in the designation of MPAs, considering that she has repeatedly called for new oil drilling off the California coast and the weakening of environmental regulations, as well as supporting environmentally destructive Canadian tar sands drilling (http://business.financialpost.com/2011/12/19/oil-sands-crude-will-face-obstacles)/ She was the proverbial “fox” in charge of the “hen house.”

Second, the MLPA process was overseen not only by an oil industry lobbyist, but by a marina developer, coastal real estate executive and other corporate operatives and political hacks with numerous conflicts of interest.

Third, in a parody of true marine protection, these fake “marine protected areas” fail to protect the ocean from oil spills and drilling, pollution, military testing, corporate aquaculture, wind and wave energy projects and all human impacts on the ocean other than fishing and gathering.

Fourth, the MLPA Initiative that created the MPAs is privately funded by the shadowy Resources Legacy Fund Foundation, setting a bad precedent for the privatization of conservation and the public trust in California. (http://blogs.alternet.org/danbacher/2011/02/18/the-corporate-money-behind-the-mlpa-initiative)

Five, the California Fish and Game Wardens Association has opposed the creation of new marine protected areas until sufficient funding to patrol the existing ones is found. This is why rank-and-file game wardens refer to the MPAs as “Marine Poaching Areas.”

Jeff Krieger, avid Southern California kayak angler and conservationist, sadly noted two weeks before today’s closure, “I’m going to kayak fish and visit the Point Dume area this weekend and say goodbye, since this area closes on January 1. This not a victory for the 99%! It is more like a water grab by the 1%, in my mind!”

“People need access to sustainable ocean food for nutritional health and our livelihood,” commented John Stephens-Lewallen, the North Coast environmental leader who co-founded the Ocean Protection Coalition and North Coast Seaweed Rebellion and has been a vocal critic of the MLPA process. “We can’t let these areas, closed by a corrupt private process, keep us from exercising our fundamental rights and duties to have access to sustainable food from the ocean.”

“The MLPA is the beginning of the privatization of our natural resources in California where, in an underhanded and illegal way, the decisions have been taken from the people and put into the hands of the ocean industrialists,” said Barbara Stephens-Lewallen, John’s wife and co-owner of Mendocino Sea Vegetable Company.

Those who believe in environmental justice, democracy and true, wholistic marine protection – as opposed to privately funded green washing – are committed to fighting the MLPA Initiative through litigation and exposing the numerous conflicts of interest and violations of state and federal laws.

A recent appeal of an unfavorable court ruling gives California’s fishing and boating community renewed hope for overturning regulations imposed under the privately funded Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative. Coastside Fishing Club, one of the three petitioners in litigation before the San Diego Superior Court challenging MLPA regulations adopted by the California Fish and Game Commission for the North Central Coast, filed an appeal with California’s 4th District Court of Appeal on December 15.

Coastside’s appeal arises from the denial by Judge Ronald Prager on October 17, 2011 of its request for a Writ of Mandate voiding MLPA regulations adopted by the commission for California’s North Central Coast in 2009 based on legal defects in implementing California law. After a careful review, Coastside concluded that Judge Prager’s ruling is inconsistent with the mandates of the law as established by the legislature.

“It’s in the best interests of all Californians that our state’s laws be implemented in a fair and even-handed manner as the legislature directs,” said Rick Ross, Coastside’s president. “Coastside intends to pursue this legitimate goal through all available legal means. We strongly believe in the merits of our case, and the appeal process provides a fresh opportunity to have our claims considered in a different forum.”

The outcome of the appeal of Judge Prager’s ruling on the North Central Coast regulations would likely influence the resolution of a similar challenge to the validity of the South Coast regulations brought in the same lawsuit by Coastside’s co-plaintiffs, United Anglers of Southern California and Robert C. Fletcher.

To donate to the litigation against the MLPA Initiative, go to: http://www.SaveCAFishing.org.

About the Author

Dan Bacher is an environmental journalist in Sacramento who focuses on California's water issues, a healthy environment for the salmon fishery of the Northwest, and the attempts by big agriculture and big oil to hog all the water.
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  • Dan Bacher

    Middle Ground

    First, the only “fairy tale” that I’m aware of is your completely undocumented contention that the MLPA process was a “very open, very public and very transparent process,” when the documents obtained via the lawsuit by fishing groups reveal that the MLPA Blue Ribbon Task Force members held secret meetings outside of the “public process.”

    Second, I never said that by “creating MPAs, the state is transferring ownership from the public to a private company.” In actuality, the MLPA is much worse than that. The entire process was privately funded beginning in 2004 when Schwarzenegger authorized a joint “public private partnership between the DFG and Resources Legacy Fund Foundation, a private corporation, and DFG.

    If that isn’t privatization of conservation, I don’t know what is. Allowing private money, obtained through Wall Street funded foundations, to fund a public process is very bad public policy – and sets an extremely bad precedent for conservation in California.

    Third, “In his quest for money, the author even lashes out at the very people on the Blue Ribbon Task Force who took the side of the fishing lobby,” you claim.

    You entirely miss the point – my concern is that what should have been a public process was hijacked by oil industry, real estate, marina development and other corporate interests who had numerous conflicts of interest in serving on the MLPA Blue Ribbon Task Force, a panel designed to “protect the oceans.”

    I don’t care if Catherine Reheis-Boyd or other task force members at times took the side of the “fishing lobby,” as you call it. That isn’t the problem.

    The problem is that having a big oil lobbyist, the president of the Western States Petroleum Association, completely in and of itself makes the process illegitimate. How can allowing a big oil lobbyist, who is aggressively pushing for new offshore oil drilling, Canadian tar sands drilling and the evisceration of environmental laws, to kick fishermen off the water constitute marine “protection” in any form?’

    Fourth, MLPA Initiative supporters falsely claim, again and again, that these so-called marine protected areas are “Yosemites of the Seas” or “marine parks.” Actually, these are nothing even remotely resembling parks; they are merely no fishing zones. Maybe you’re not aware, but fishing is allowed in Yosemite and state and national parks!

    If these were real “marine parks” or “Yosemites of the Sea,” following the lead of our national and state parks, they would allow at least limited, sustainable fishing and would aggressively protect the ocean from oil spills and drilling, pollution, military testing, corporate aquaculture, wind and wave energy projects and all human impacts on the ocean other than fishing and gathering.

    What the corrupt MLPA Task Force created was not marine protected areas, but “marine polluted areas” and “marine poaching areas.”

    “Drop the sound bites and lets start working together to find ways to make the use of marine resources more sustainable, fight back against offshore oil drilling, and clean up water pollution. But perhaps the author is more interested in financing his career than the sustainable use of the ocean.”

    Actually, Middle Ground, the only people interested in “financing their careers” in the MLPA process that I’m aware of are the representatives of corporate environmental NGOs who get nice, comfortable salaries by serving their masters, the Resources Legacy Fund Foundation, Packard Foundation, the Walton Family Foundation (Walmart) and others, in pushing for the creation of fake marine protected areas under the MLPA fiasco.

    And the only “sound bites” I’m hearing in the process are the false claims from the MLPA Initiative and corporate environmental NGOs that the new “marine protected areas” are “Yosemites of the Sea” and “marine parks” that were created under an “open, inclusive and transparent process” – when every bit of documentation and evidence proves the very opposite.

    By the way, I have supported numerous ocean fishery area closures and restrictions over the past 25 years, including the gill net ban in 1990 and trawl net restrictions in 1993 and 2004, to promote sustainable fishing. I have also supported controversial Central Valley and North Coast river closures to protect spawning steelhead and salmon.

    Unlike the MLPA process, these efforts were grassroots and supported by fishing groups and grassroots environmental organizations.

    I have played in a leadership role in fighting the peripheral canal and more water exports, exposing the Klamath River fish kill of 2002 and supporting dam removal, working with tribes, fishermen and grassroots enviros for Trinity River Restoration, exposing the Prospect Island Fish Kill of 2007 and pushing for an end to “permits to pollute” being granted by the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Board. I have also successfully fought against dredge spoils dumping in San Francisco Bay and new oil drilling on the California coast.

    In many of these fishery restoration and true environmental protection efforts, the big corporate environmental NGOs that support the MLPA were nowhere to be found, apparently because they were more interested in serving the interests of the big foundations and corporations that fund and support them.

    Again, it is you and other MLPA advocates who need to “drop the sound” bites and actually step up to the plate and support real marine protection and fish restoration efforts like those I have put thousands and thousands of hours advocating for and writing about. A good start would be supporting an investigation into the conflicts of interest in the MLPA process and to call for true, comprehensive marine protected areas that protect the ocean from oil drilling and spills, pollution, corporate aquaculture, military testing and other human impacts other than just fishing and gathering.

  • Middle Ground

    The author spins a convincing story of corporate greed stealing public resources from the bottom 99%. But this story is a fairytale told by someone seeking financial support for a legal battle with our impoverished State so that companies that sell fishing excursions can continue with “business as usual” and block steps the State is taking better manage California’s severely depleted fish populations. The idea that by creating MPAs, the state is transferring ownership from the public to a private company (the definition of privatization) is ludicrous. That’s like saying the creation of Yosemite National Park privatized the land. From the perspective of grass roots environmentalists, scuba divers, and wildlife viewers, MPAs take marine resources out of the hands of the private companies (commercial passenger fishing vessels who have caused the recent devastation of southern California’s once abundant barred sand bass) and giving these resources back to the public. In his quest for money, the author even lashes out at the very people on the Blue Ribbon Task force who took the side of the fishing lobby throughout the very open, very public, very transparent process to design these MPAs. These kinds of statements fueled the anger and animosity during the MLPA process and will continue to create conflict between different user groups. Drop the sound bites and lets start working together to find ways to make the use of marine resources more sustainable, fight back against offshore oil drilling, and clean up water pollution. But perhaps the author is more interested in financing his career than the sustainable use of the ocean.