State Officials Misinformed California Anglers on Ocean Closures

oceans mapA national coalition of recreational anglers is concerned that “misinformation” by state officials has led many anglers to believe that new marine protected areas off Southern California have already gone into effect when they have not.

The fishing groups also note that litigation challenging the legitimacy of these closures, implemented under a privately funded process infested with conflicts of interest and corruption, may prevent these closures from ever going into effect.

The California Fish and Game Commission, at its meeting in Stockton on June 29, voted to delay implementing regulations adopted last December for the Southern California Coast under Arnold Schwarzenegger’s controversial Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) until October 1, 2011. 

At the same meeting, the Commission accepted a “preferred alternative” that “failed to affirm traditional tribal gathering” in the North Coast Study Region MLPA Initiative, according to a statement from the Yurok Tribe.

In a 4-1 vote, Commissioners selected this day (October 1) 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,” said Jordan Traverso, spokesman for the Department of Fish and Game (DFG).

On Dec. 15, 2010, the Commission adopted regulations to create a network of highly-contested “marine protected areas” (MPAs) in Southern California waters. Developed under the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) planning process funded by the shadowy Resources Legacy Foundation, 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 allows time for OAL review and approval, finalizing the lawmaking process,” Jordan added.

A news release from Keep America Fishing on July 8 emphasized, “These new South Coast regulations, which would close much of southern California’s best coastal waters to sportfishing, are not yet in effect. Misinformation – including statements by the Department of Fish and Game several months ago – has many anglers under the false impression that these waters are now and have been closed since early spring.”

“Anglers need to understand that the ‘marine protected areas’ designated by the Commission last December are still open for fishing, and will be at least until October 1 of this year,” said Mike Leonard, Ocean Resource Policy director for the American Sportfishing Association (ASA).

Validity of regulations challenged in court

“And, the validity of these regulations is being challenged in court; that battle is far from over,” noted Leonard. “Much can happen between now and October 1. The Department should not have made statements that the areas are already closed. These statements are simply not true and are unfair to the millions of anglers who pay for California’s fisheries management through license sales and the federal excise tax on fishing tackle and motorboat fuels.”

The Department’s Ocean Sport Fishing Regulations booklet, posted March 1, 2011, erroneously states that the regulations went into effect in “spring 2011.” Prior to the vote, the department’s website stated only that the regulations were expected to be effective “mid-2011.”

The Partnership for Sustainable Oceans (PSO), a coalition of organizations representing California’s recreational fishing and boating community, sent a letter to the DFG in response to the general uncertainty within the sportfishing community regarding the South Coast MLPA regulations. The group expressed its serious concerns about the misinformation provided to anglers about the effective date of the South Coast MLPA regulations.

The errors have since been corrected, but the confusion over conflicting messages issued early by state officials remains.

“We’ve never seen a state so determined to destroy an activity that generates both income and jobs and as well as funding for fisheries conservation,” Leonard said.

“In talking with numerous anglers, I’ve noticed that there is still considerable confusion about whether or not coastal waters are still open to recreational fishing,” said Bob Fletcher, former president of the Sportfishing Association of California. “The state’s miscommunications are causing anglers to unnecessarily stay off the water for fear that the regulations are already in place.”

In addition to controversies about their effective date, the MPA designations in the South Coast are currently being successfully challenged in the courts, the coalition stated. On January 27, 2011, United Anglers of Southern California, Coastside Fishing Club and Bob Fletcher filed a lawsuit in the San Diego County Superior Court seeking to set aside the MPA designations for the North Central and South Coast study regions.

The lawsuit cites a “lack of statutory authority” for the Fish and Game Commission to adopt the regulations, and, in the case of the South Coast regulations, numerous violations of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) in the Commission’s environmental review of the regulations.

On May 31, the California’s sportfishing community claimed its third legal victory in the legal effort against the MLPA Initiative when a San Diego Superior Court judge ordered that two environmental ocean closure advocate organizations, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and The Ocean Conservancy, had no legal right to intervene in the aforementioned lawsuit.

Secret meetings in so-called ‘open and transparent‘ process exposed!

In 2010, Fletcher filed and won a suit against the MLPA Blue Ribbon Task Force and Master Plan Team for failing to provide documents related to their MLPA planning efforts. These groups incorrectly claimed that they were not required to make their records available to the public under the Public Records Act on the mistaken theory that they are not “state agencies.”

Once these records were finally disclosed, numerous long-standing suspicions about the lack of openness and transparency within the MLPA process were confirmed, including that the Blue Ribbon Task Force met numerous times outside of the public view in scheduled private meetings, according to the coalition.

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