DAN BACHER, IndyBay.org, September 1, 2010
In a great show of unity between Tribal members, recreational anglers, commercial fishermen and environmentalists, the 33 members of the Regional Stakeholder Group for Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative on August 31 adopted one unified proposal for marine protected areas (MPAs) stretching from Point Arena in Mendocino County to the Oregon border.
The North Coast stakeholders were the first ever to develop a single consensus proposal under the controversial, privately funded process. In the Central Coast, North Central Coast and South Coast regions, environmental NGOs and fishing groups supported separate proposals.
The proposal will be submitted to the MLPA Blue Ribbon Task Force for review at before their October 25-27 meeting at the Fortuna River Lodge. The final proposal will then go to the Fish and Game Commission for final approval at their meeting in Sacramento in December.
“Everyone talked about a unified community proposal at the beginning of the MLPA process, but I wasn’t expecting to pull it off,” said Adam Wagschal, Humboldt Bay Harbor, Recreational and Conservation District Conservation Director, in a news release from Cal Oceans, a coalition of three environmental NGOs. “Sure enough though, everyone came together and we did it. It’s a great accomplishment.”
Tribal representatives also applauded the adoption of a unified proposal that allows for traditional tribal fishing and gathering rights. The stakeholders meeting was preceded by a historic protest in Fort Bragg on July 21 where over 300 Tribal members from 50 Indian nations, recreational anglers, commercial fishermen, immigrant seafood industry workers and environmentalists peacefully took over an MLPA Blue Ribbon Task Force meeting in defense of tribal fishing and gathering rights.
“There was significant progress by the stakeholders in coming together to create a unified proposal that protects tribal rights,” said Megan Rocha, Acting Self-Governance Officer of the Yurok Tribe. “The stakeholders did the best they could in respecting tribal gathering and fishing rights. Now this issue will go to the state of California and tribes to work it out at the next level.”
Rocha emphasized that every MPA proposal includes language to allow continued tribal uses in marine protected areas. In certain areas, the stakeholders also included language allowing for co-management between the tribes and the state.
Over the past few months, the initial set of MPA eight proposals was whittled down to four. The Regional Stakeholder Group (RSG), including Tribal leaders, recreational anglers, commercial fishermen, harbormasters, divers, seaweed harvesters, business leaders and conservation representatives found enough common ground to develop one final proposal.
“The stakeholders took a strong position affirming tribal rights,” said Rocha. “It was unbelievable how committed the stakeholders were to making sure that tribal rights were respected. All of the tribes really appreciated that support.”
The proposal will result in about 13% of the North Coast region being restricted or closed to fishing and gathering, versus 16-20% in other regions of the state.
Representatives of conservation groups applauded the effort, despite some concerns that the plan may not fully meet the scientific guidelines laid out for the MLPA process.
“Everyone made sacrifices to get to this point,” said Jennifer Savage, Ocean Conservancy’s North Coast Program Coordinator. “We started out with a number of significant differences regarding needs and desires, but ultimately our respect for each other and willingness to work together enabled us to develop a plan we can all send forward.”’
The plan includes three “State Marine Reserves,” zones completely closed to all fishing, just south of Cape Mendocino, about a mile offshore of the Mattole River and along an area west of Petrolia. Another MPA along Samoa allows for Dungeness crab, chinook salmon and smelt fishing. The MPAs include two areas to the south of Redding Rock, one allowing fishing and the other a no-take zone.
Recreational and commercial fishermen also praised the development of a single proposal.
“I’m happy that we came up with a single proposal,” Tim Klassen, captain of the Reel Steel charter boat out of Humboldt Bay, told the Eureka Times Standard on August 31, “and hopefully we’ll keep our fate in our own hands.”
Despite the adoption of a unified proposal for the North Coast, significant concerns about the overall MLPA process remain.
Fishermen, Tribal members and environmentalists are concerned that the MLPA process under Schwarzenegger has taken oil drilling, water pollution, wave energy development, habitat destruction and other human uses of the ocean other than fishing and gathering off the table. The MLPA would do nothing to stop another Exxon Valdez or Deepwater Horizon oil disaster from devastating the California coast.
MLPA critics have also blasted the Governor for appointing an oil industry lobbyist, a marina developer, a real estate executive and people with conflicts of interest on the Blue Ribbon Task Forces that develop the marine reserves.
Many are puzzled whey Catherine Reheis-Boyd, the president of the Western States Petroleum Association, is allowed to make decisions as the chair of the BRTF for the South Coast and as a member of the BRTF for the North Coast, panels that are supposedly designed to “protect” the ocean, when she has called for new oil drilling off the California coast.
Many fishermen and environmentalists are also concerned that a private corporation, the Resources Legacy Fund Foundation, is privatizing ocean resource management in California through a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the DFG.
Nonetheless, the development of a unified marine protected area (MLPA) proposal on the North Coast is a great victory for fishermen, Tribes, seaweed harvesters, environmentalists and other stakeholders in the MLPA process. Rather than being “divided and conquered” by the Schwarzenegger administration as has happened elsewhere in the MLPA study regions, they chose to work together and overcome their differences to develop a consensus proposal.