The inconvenient truths about California’s MLPA ocean protection

  • Published on June 12th, 2012

The San Francisco Chronicle on Sunday, June 10 reported on the Fish and Game Commission’s approval of a network of so-called “marine protected areas” on California’s North Coast. Peter Fimrite wrote:

A vast network of undersea reserves – which conservationists have dreamed about for years – has been completed by the California Fish and Game Commission. The northernmost of four marine parks was approved by the commission last week, creating an interconnected series of protected marine environments from Mexico to Oregon.

tribes protest MLPA's exclusion of native gathering rightsI applaud the reporter for quoting Zeke Grader, Executive Director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, who exposes the fact that these alleged marine protected areas do not protect the ocean from:

  • Oil spills and drilling
  • Military and seismic testing
  • Corporate aquaculture
  • Wind and wave energy projects
  • All other impacts on the ocean other than fishing and gathering

“Nobody has done the heavy lifting in terms of water quality and other effects on the marine environment,” Grader said. “You have all these groups all atwitter about fishing and gathering impacts, but they have their blinders on when it comes to other effects.”

In violation of the letter and spirit of the landmark Marine Life Protection Act of 1999, these marine reserves fail to comprehensively protect the ocean from ocean industrialization and other threats to the marine ecosystem.

However, Fimrite neglected to mention four key “inconvenient truths” that are key to understanding the MLPA Initiative.

First, the allegedly “open and transparent” process was privately funded by the shadowy Resources Legacy Foundation. This is an inherent conflict of interest, since this foundation also funds many of the corporate “environmental” NGOs who lobbied for the creation of marine reserves with the least possible protection from all other human impacts on the ocean other than fishing.

Second, the reporter failed to mention that the Northern California Tribal Chairman’s Association, including the Chairs of the Elk Valley Rancheria, Hoopa Valley Tribe, Karuk Tribe, Smith River Rancheria, Trinidad Rancheria, and Yurok Tribe, believes the science behind the MLPA Initiative developed by Schwarzenegger’s Science Advisory Team is “incomplete and terminally flawed.”

The Yurok Tribe said it has attempted on numerous occasions to address the scientific inadequacies with the MLPA science developed under the Schwarzenegger administration by adding “more robust protocols” into the equation, but was denied every time. This denial of consideration of the Tribe’s scientific data flies in the face of false claims by MLPA advocates that the privately funded initiative creates “Yosemites of the Sea” and “underwater parks” based on “science.”

Third, Fimrite inexplicably failed to note that the new regulations, in a great miscarriage of justice, prohibit Yurok Tribe members from gathering seaweed, mussels and fish at their traditional gathering areas at Reading Rock and the False Klamath. Two Tribal Elders told the Commission that they would continuing gathering food, regardless of the Commission’s decision.

“We are hunters, fishermen and gatherers and we have lived here since time immemorial,” said David Gensaw Sr., a member of the Yurok Tribal Council. “We have gathered on these shores forever since the Creator put us here.”

“We’re here today to tell you that we need that subsistence, and we will continue to provide our people with that nourishment,” he stated. “Hopefully, we can work this out without a confrontation.”

Yurok Tribal Elder Jack Matz emphasized, “If the regulations are implemented the way they are planned now, you will have a confrontation with a lot of elders, including myself.”

Fourth, the article fails to mention that the MLPA Blue Ribbon Task Forces that oversaw the implementation of these “marine protected areas” included a big oil lobbyist, marina developer, real estate executive and other individuals with numerous conflicts of interest.

Catherine Reheis-Boyd, the president of the Western States Petroleum Association, served on the MLPA Blue Ribbon Task Forces for the North Coast and North Central Coast. Reheis-Boyd, a relentless advocate for offshore oil drilling, hydraulic fracturing (fracking), the Keystone XL Pipeline and the weakening of environmental laws, also chaired the task force that developed the MPAs that went into effect in Southern California on January 1.

The MLPA process is an egregious example of corporate greenwashing, as evidenced by Reheis-Boyd’s leadership role in the creation of the alleged “marine parks.”

Many grassroots environmentalists and fishermen believe that Reheis-Boyd was appointed to the task force to make sure that the oil industry’s interests were protected – and to ensure that recreational and commercial fishermen and seaweed harvesters, the most vocal opponents of offshore oil drilling, are removed from many areas on the ocean to clear a path for ocean industrialization.

The big question that remains is: why did MLPA Initiative advocates, including representatives of corporate “environmental” NGOs, not oppose the appointment of a big oil lobbyist to the MLPA Blue Ribbon Task Forces, let alone her appointment as chair of the South Coast process?

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.