Commission adopts North Coast marine protected areas

The California Fish and Game Commission on June 6 adopted regulations for the North Coast "marine protected areas" (MPAs) created under the controversial Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative.

Commissioners Michael Sutton, Richard Rogers and Jack Baylis voted 3 to 0 to approve the regulations covering approximately 1,027 square miles of state waters from the California/Oregon state line south to Alder Creek near Point Arena in Mendocino County. Commissioners Jim Kellogg and Richard Rogers, both critics of the MLPA process, were absent.

The decision completed the network of MPAs in California's open coastal waters, stretching from Mexico to the Oregon state line, developed under a public-private partnership between the Department of Fish and Game (DFG) and the Resources Legacy Fund Foundation.

Many fishermen, Tribal members and environmentalists were relieved that the Commission voted for the unified proposal endorsed by the stakeholders, rather than approving a DFG proposal that changed the boundary lines of the marine reserves, supposedly for easier enforcement.

"We did about well as we could today," said Jim Martin, West Coast Regional Director of the Recreational Fishing Alliance. "The Commission didn't add anything to the regional stakeholders proposal. They didn't make the regulations worse."

The long and contentious process was marked by several historic direct action protests by North Coast Indian Tribes and their allies to defend Tribal gathering and fishing rights, including the largest protest on the North Coast since Redwood Summer of 1990.

On July 21, 2010, over 300 people including members of 50 Indian Nations, recreational anglers, commercial fishermen, immigrant seafood industry workers and grassroots environmentalists peacefully took over an MLPA Blue Ribbon Task Force meeting in Fort Bragg to protest the threat to traditional gathering rights posed by the MLPA Initiative.

John Laird: a "great day" for the ocean

After the Commission made their decision, Secretary for Natural Resources John Laird said, "This is a great day for California's ocean and coastal resources. As promised, we have completed the nation's first statewide open coast system of marine protected areas, strengthening California's ongoing commitment to conserve marine life for future generations. Through the process, we also established the first ever special designation allowing tribes to continue ancestral fishing practices on the North Coast."

The public planning process for the north coast region began in June 2009 and included numerous public workshops and more than 75 days of meetings.

"Our decision today was made possible by the hard work and dedication of hundreds of stakeholders up and down the California coast," gushed Michael Sutton, Vice President of the Commission. "California can be proud not only of its new, comprehensive network of protection for the marine environment, but of the cutting-edge public process that made it happen."

The North coast regulations include a provision for federally recognized tribal members to continue harvesting and gathering fish, kelp and shellfish as they have for countless generations. "The provision will allow non-commercial take to continue, consistent with existing regulations, in MPAs other than State Marine Reserves, where there is a record of ancestral take by a specific tribe," the DFG said.

"We sincerely appreciate the state's willingness to hear the concerns of the tribes and develop a plan that meets critical marine conservation and tribal cultural protection goals," said Chairwoman Priscilla Hunter of the InterTribal Sinkyone Wilderness Council, a consortium of 10 federally recognized north coast tribes based in Mendocino and Lake counties. "The start of this process was very difficult and contentious, but thanks to Secretary Laird and Governor Brown, we have ended in a very positive place with a strong framework for future tribal consultation on important conservation and environmental issues."

Yurok Tribe leaders criticize new regulations

However, Yurok Tribal leaders told the Commission they were unhappy with regulations that would prohibit them from gathering seaweed, mussels and fish at their traditional gathering areas at Reading Rock and the False Klamath - and vowed to keep gathering 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."

Gensaw told the Commission about the Tribe's problems with diabetes, high blood pressure and other illnesses caused by a change in diet since the arrival of Europeans, who took many of the traditional foods from the tribe.

"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."

The plan adopted by the Commission includes 19 MPAs, a recreational management area, and seven special closures covering approximately 137 square miles of state waters or about 13 percent of the region, according to a DFG press release.

California encompasses approximately 5,285 square miles of open coast state waters. The controversial marine protected areas are now in place on the Central Coast, North Central Coast and South Coast.

The open coast portion of the statewide network of MPAs now includes 119 MPAs, five recreational management areas and 15 special closures covering approximately 16 percent of all open coast state waters. Approximately half of California's new or modified MPAs are multiple use areas, with the remaining in no-take areas.

MLPA process failed to incorporate tribal science

"This statewide system will benefit fish and fishermen in California for generations to come," claimed Charlton H. Bonham, director of the DFG. "The science shows that by protecting sensitive ocean and coastal habitats, marine life flourishes and in turn, creates a healthier system overall."

While Bonham and MLPA officials claim the MLPA Initiative was based on "science," it is worth noting that the MLPA Science Advisory Team failed to incorporate studies from Yurok Tribe scientists that challenged the MLPA's assumptions.

"With regard to local shoreline systems, where there is access, there are no 'unfished' systems," said Mike Belchik, senior fisheries biologist from the Yurok Fisheries Program. "People have coexisted with these resources for many thousands of years; the appropriate conceptual organization foundation is that systems have been managed, and what is seen is the result of millennia of management." (

The Initiative's unresolved issues

Besides unresolved tribal gathering issues such as those pointed out by Gensaw and Matz of the Yurok Tribe, there are a number of other unresolved issues with the North Coast MPAs.

First, the Commission and MLPA Blue Ribbon Task Force failed to include language proposed by fishermen and environmentalists to include increased protections from oil drilling and spills, pollution, military testing, corporate aquaculture and wind and wave energy projects in the marine protected areas.

"Marine protected areas can in some instances be beneficial for specific areas, species or ecosystems," said Zeke Grader, Executive Director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations. "However, the problem we have here is that these 'marine protected areas' are in essence no fishing zones and they don't protect for water quality and other types of development or insults to the environment from activities such as seismic testing."

Second, fishermen and environmentalists also regularly criticized the presence of Catherine Reheis-Boyd, the President of the Western States Petroleum Association, on the MLPA Blue Ribbon Task Force for the North Coast and North Central Coast. The Commission and state officials rejected requests for an investigation into conflicts of interest posed by Reheis-Boyd in her role as "marine guardian," as well as conflicts of interest posed by a marina operator and real estate executive that served on the task force.

Reheis-Boyd, a relentless advocate for offshore oil drilling, hydraulic fracturing (fracking), the Keystone XL Pipeline and the weakening of environmental laws, chaired the South Coast MLPA Blue Ribbon Task that developed the MPAs that went into effect in Southern California waters on January 1, 2012.

Third, the Commission and DFG have not found yet found funding for the increased number of wardens needed to patrol the new marine reserves. The California Fish and Game Wardens Association has opposed the creation of any new marine protected areas unless funding for enforcement is provided. California currently has the lowest ratio of wardens to people of any state in the nation - and is currently beset by an epidemic of fish, shellfish and wildlife poaching.

S.F. Bay process delayed until peripheral canal plan completed

The last stop on the MLPA Initiative "road show" after the North Coast process was completed was supposed to be San Francisco Bay. However, Secretary Laird and Director Bonham said on May 7 that implementation of "marine protected areas" in San Francisco Bay will be delayed until the completion of "planning efforts" for the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta under the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP). (

"We look forward to continuing to work with all local, state and federal agencies dedicated to ensuring successful marine planning and protection for San Francisco Bay subsequent to completing planning efforts in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta," Laird and Bonham stated.

The BDCP is a plan to build a peripheral canal or tunnel to export more Delta water to southern California and corporate agribusiness on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley. A broad coalition of Delta residents, recreational anglers, commercial fishermen, Indian Tribes, family farmers, grassroots environmentalists and elected officials is opposing the peripheral canal's construction because it would hasten the extinction of Central Valley salmon, Delta smelt, longfin smelt and other fish species and take vast areas of Delta farmland out of production under the guise of habitat "restoration."

In a classic case of corporate greenwashing, the Resources Legacy Fund Foundation and David and Lucile Packard Foundation, the key funders of the MLPA Initiative, have also funded many of the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) reports promoting the construction of the peripheral canal.

For more information on the Marine Life Protection Act Initiative, visit

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