Commission Sets Date for South Coast Marine Reserves

tijuana river mouth

Tijuana River mouth

The California Fish and Game Commission on Wednesday, June 29 chose October 1, 2011 as the “effective date” for implementation of the marine protected areas (MPAs) in Southern California under the controversial Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative.

“In a 4-1 vote, Commissioners selected this day to better inform affected ocean users of the new regulations in the South Coast Study Region, which spans from Point Conception in Santa Barbara County to the U.S./Mexico border,” according to a news release from the California Department of Fish and Game.

Commissioners Richard Rogers, Michael Sutton, Jack Bayless and Jim Kellogg voted for the October 1 date, while Commissioner Daniel Richards voted against it.

On December 15, 2010 the Commission adopted regulations to create a network of “marine protected areas” (MPAs) in this study region. Developed under the privately funded Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative, this network of 49 MPAs and three special closures covers approximately 354 square miles of state waters and represents approximately 15 percent of the region.

“The regulatory package is being prepared for the Office of Administrative Law (OAL) and the date selected today allows time for OAL review and approval, finalizing the lawmaking process,” the DFG stated.

A coalition of fishing groups opposed the selection of the October 1 date, noting that “process of developing Marine Protected Areas in the South Coast study area was significantly flawed.”

“The Commission acted without the required statutory authority to act,” said George Osborn, spokesman for the Partnership for Sustainable Oceans (PSO). “It violated the Coastal Act and it violated the California Environmental Quality Act. The process mandated by the MLPA was subverted by the MLPA ‘Initiative’ and by the creation and actions of the BRTF.”

Osborn emphasized that public records “clearly demonstrate that members of the the BRTF engaged in private meetings not open to the public or noticed to the public, in which policy matters were discussed and decided upon before the so-called ‘public’ meetings of the BRTF. We believe the process was illegal and violates California statutes. The MLPAI was anything but ‘open and transparent as is so often proclaimed.”

When the Commission adopted the South Coast regulations in December, the coalition expressed its concerns and stated it may have to resort to the courts for satisfaction.

“This is is exactly what we have done,” said Osborn. “The litigation is pending in San Diego Superior Court. We have raised legitimate and serious claims and after five months in court the Commission has taken now action to try to dispute these claims.”

Osborn urged the Commission to instruct the staff to recommend an effective date for the South Coast MPA regulations that “allows time for the court to reach its ultimate decisions of the case before the regulations would otherwise become effective and enforceable.”

The coalition of fishing groups has won three court decisions in a row in its litigation against the MLPA Initiative, Osborn added.

yurok tribe
Yurok Tribal Member Richard Myers cleans mussels inside of Patrick’s Point State Park. The Park does not recognize the rights of indigenous tribes who depend on gathering there to perpetuate their lifeways.

Yurok Tribe: Commission fails to affirm tribal rights

In the afternoon session of the same meeting, the Commission by a 4-1 vote approved a controversial “preferred alternative” that “failed to affirm traditional tribal gathering in the North Coast Study Region of the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative,” according to a statement from the Yurok Tribe, the largest Indian Tribe in California with 5,500 members.

Commissioners Richard Rogers, Michael Sutton, Jack Bayless and Jim Kellogg voted for the alternative, while Commissioner Daniel Richards voted against it.

In spite of voting for the “preferred alternative,” Kellogg declared, “I’m for Option Zero. Things are fine the way they are.”

According to “Option 1,” tribal members would have to use a state fishing license in addition to a Tribal ID for those sixteen or older and be limited by state regulations.

“I cannot accept the part about the fishing license,” said Yurok Tribal Chairman Thomas O’Rourke Sr. “The Fish and Game has taken an unjust and patronizing step. No one can separate these resources from our culture.”

Option 1 states “tribal gathering to continue in SMCAs (not SMRs), by specific tribal users, where a factual record can be established that shows ancestral take or tribal gathering practices by a federally-recognized tribe in that specific MPA (marine protected area), and by allowing only those tribes to take specified species with specified gear types.”

The Northern California Tribal Chairmen’s Association and the Inter-Tribal Sinkyone Wilderness Council, representing all of the recognized tribes in the study region, proposed a motion that would have affirmed traditional tribal harvest managed by individual Tribal governments.

The motion states: “Consistent with the tribal gathering general concepts described in Option 1…Traditional, non-commercial tribal uses shall be allowed to continue unimpeded within the proposed SMCAs and SMRMs in the MLPA’s North Coast Study Region for all federally recognized tribes that can establish that they have practiced such uses within a specific SMCA or SMRMA.”

“We’ve said from the beginning tribal rights are nonnegotiable,” Chairman O’Rourke Sr. affirmed. “We’ve said that because we are in charge of our destiny.”

Tribal members at the meeting indicated that they would continue to gather as indigenous people have done for thousands of years, regardless of the Commission’s decision.

“Even if traditional gathering is banned, we will still continue to gather,” said Georgiana Myers, Yurok Tribal member, during the public comment period prior to the Commission vote.

To protest proposed restrictions on coastal gathering proposed under the MLPA Initiative, members of the Yurok, Hoopa Valley, Karuk and other Tribes on Saturday, June 18 gathered seaweed, mussels and clams at three beaches on the North Coast.

“Our message is ‘Don’t mussel us out,'” said Dania Rose Colegrove, Hoopa Tribal Citizen and organizer for the Coastal Justice Coalition. “We’re here to stay – we’ve been gathering here for thousands of years.”

She pointed out the hypocrisy of the MLPA’s “marine protected areas” restricting tribal gathering and fishing, while doing nothing to stop ocean industrialists from destroying the marine ecosystem.

“How is it that the MLPA doesn’t protect the ocean from big oil, wave energy projects, water pollution, military testing and all of the people who want to mess up the ocean, the people with big money,” Colegrove emphasized. “Now the North Coast has been opened up to military testing by the Navy.”

A broad and unified coalition, ranging from fishing industry representatives to environmental groups, from county governments to Native American governments, supports the decriminalization of the traditional tribal harvest of coastal resources. Representatives of fishing groups, environmental organizations and Tribes from throughout Northern California spoke in support of protecting traditional tribal gathering and the proposal by the Northern California Tribal Chairmen’s Association and the Inter-Tribal Sinkyone Wilderness Council during the public comment period

For more information about the Klamath and Coastal Justice Coalitions, go here.

MLPA Initiative Background

The Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) is a law, signed by Governor Gray Davis in 1999, designed to create a network of marine protected areas off the California Coast. However, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2004 created the privately-funded MLPA “Initiative” to “implement” the law, effectively eviscerating the MLPA.

The “marine protected areas” created under the MLPA Initiative fail to protect the ocean from oil spills and drilling, water pollution, military testing, wave and wind energy projects, corporate aquaculture and all other uses of the ocean other than fishing and gathering.

The MLPA Blue Ribbon Task Forces that oversaw the implementation of “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 who is pushing for new oil drilling off the California coast, served as the chair of the MLPA Blue Ribbon Task Force for the South Coast.

The MLPA Initiative operated through a controversial private/public “partnership funded by the shadowy Resources Legacy Fund Foundation. The Schwarzenegger administration, under intense criticism by grassroots environmentalists, fishermen and Tribal members, authorized the implementation of marine protected areas under the initiative through a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the foundation and the California Department of Fish and Game (DFG).

dan bacherTribal members, fishermen, grassroots environmentalists, human rights advocates and civil liberties activists have slammed the MLPA Initiative for the violation of numerous state, federal and international laws. Critics charge that the initiative, privatized by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2004, has violated the Bagley-Keene Open Meetings Act, Brown Act, California Administrative Procedures Act, American Indian Religious Freedom Act and UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

MLPA and state officials refused to appoint any tribal scientists to the MLPA Science Advisory Team (SAT), in spite of the fact that the Yurok Tribe alone has a Fisheries Department with over 70 staff members during the peak fishing season, including many scientists. The MLPA Blue Ribbon Task Force also didn’t include any tribal representatives until 2010 when one was finally appointed to the panel.

Dan Bacher

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