Commission To Vote On Postponing Scientific Assessments Of Marine Reserves

posted in: Spotlight | 0

The Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative, one of the most controversial environmental processes in California history, is known for its many broken promises and “inconvenient truths.”

On April 13, the California Fish and Game Commission at its meeting in Santa Rosa will consider a plan that postpones scientific assessments that would evaluate whether “marine protected areas” (MPAs) have effectively restored fish populations.

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDF) plan proposes to postpone regional scientific reviews of the effectiveness of “marine protected areas” from once every five years, as originally promised, to once every 10 years.

It is very important that anglers and public trust advocates be there at the meeting to protest this change in plans – and sign an on-line petition urging the Commission to keep their promise to conduct regional reviews of MPAs once every five years.

The meeting will take place on April 13 starting at 8:30 am at the Flamingo Conference Resort & Spa, 2777 Fourth Street, Santa Rosa, CA. The agenda is Item 10:

“Adopt proposed final Master Plan for Marine Protected Areas and the Marine Life Protection Program pursuant to the Marine Life Protection Act (Pursuant to Section 2850, et seq., Fish and Game Code).”

The complete agenda is available at :

You can sign the petition by going to:

In December, George Osborn of the California Sportfishing League spoke at the California Fish and Game Commission meeting to challenge this change in plans.

“As anglers know, the State of California designated over 800 square miles of the Pacific Ocean off limits to recreational fishing – in large part due to overfishing by the commercial fishing industry,” according to Osborn. “However, the State said these marine protected areas would be temporary and after five years, they would conduct a regional review to determine when they open to recreational angling once again.”

State officials claim that they have changed plans because of the “huge workload” and “huge expense” that would result from conducting the reviews every five years as originally planned. However, the real reason is apparently because the scientific assessment in the one marine protected region surveyed so far, the Central Coast, has failed to produce the results that proponents had hoped for. (

Dr. Rick Starr of California Sea Grant and Dean Wendt, dean of research at Cal Poly, led a team of marine researchers and more than 700 volunteer fishermen to sample fish within and outside of four protected areas: Año Nuevo State Marine Conservation Area, Point Lobos, and the Piedras Blancas and Point Buchon State marine reserves.

The conclusions of the study contrast with the claims of many MPLA Initiative Advocates that the creation of reserves would result in dramatically improved fish populations soon after implementation.

In the seven years of data examined, “We didn’t see much change that could be attributed to the MPA status,” Starr said. (

As fishermen pointed out in meeting after meeting, the entire continental shelf of California, the Rockfish Conservation Zone, was already the largest defacto marine protected area on the West Coast before the first MPA created under the MLPA Initiative went into effect in 2007. In addition, California already had some of the strictest fishing regulations anywhere on the planet before the MPAs created under the MLPA Initiative became effective.

The CDFW’s breaking of their promise to review the MPAs once every five years is only one of the “Inconvenient Truths” of the MLPA Initiative – and one in a long series of broken promises.

First, the marine protected areas created under the MLPA Initiative process, funded privately by the Resources Legacy Fund Foundation, violate the provisions of the Marine Life Protection Act of 1999 by failing to protect the ocean from pollution, fracking, oil drilling, oil spills, military testing, corporate aquaculture and all human impacts other than sustainable fishing and gathering as the law was intended.

Second, MLPA Initiative advices still fail to address the immense conflict of interest posed by Catherine Reheis-Boyd, President of the Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA), chairing the MLPA Blue Ribbon Task Force for the South Coast as Southern California waters were being fracked like crazy – and as she led the campaign to expand fracking and offshore oil drilling in California. (

This conflict of interest, along with the conflicts of interests posed by other corporate operatives overseeing the process, still casts a dark shadow over the legitimacy of the “marine protected areas” created under their “leadership.”

Third, the state still fails to acknowledge the fishing and gathering rights of the Yurok Tribe, the largest Indian Tribe in California, and other Tribes in State Marine Reserves. Tribal fishing and gathering is only allowed in the State Marine Conservation Areas created under the privately funded process.

Fourth, the terminally flawed science and false assumptions of the process have never been addressed. For example, in a report to the California Fish And Game Commission in 2011, Yurok Tribe senior fishery scientist Mike Belchik challenged the false assumptions of the MLPA Initiative regarding “maximum harvest” and “unfished shoreline” ecosystems

The assumption of maximum harvest “assumes that recreational harvest will occur to the maximum extent permitted by law” and “fails to take into account Yurok Tribe’s experience and ability to manage its natural resources,” he said.

With regard to local shoreline ecosystems, where there is access, there are no “unfished” systems, said Belchik.

“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,” he stated. (

Nor has a long-needed investigation of the role of a convicted embezzler, Ron LeValley, in creating the initiative’s “science” ever been conducted. LeValley, who served a 10-month federal prison sentence for conspiracy to embezzle over $852,000 from the Yurok Tribe, co-chaired the MLPA Initiative “Science” Advisory Team for the North Coast. (

Fifth, there is still not enough funding for effective enforcement of the MPAs by game wardens. For years, wardens have referred to the MPAs as “Marine Poaching Areas” because California, with the lowest per capita ratio of wardens to the population of any state in the nation, doesn’t have enough wardens to patrol the new marine reserves completed under the MLPAI in December 2012, let alone the already existing marine protected areas.

Finally, while MLPA Initiative advocates proclaimed that the process was the ‘”most open, transparent and inclusive process in California history,” the South Coast MLPA process didn’t produce a stable agreement and stakeholders do not regard the process as fair, according to an article published this March at and published previously in the Negotiation Journal.

Two of the authors, Scott McCreary and Phyllis Grifman, participated in the South Coast process, as facilitator and stakeholder negotiator, respectively. Meredith Cowart helped analyze survey results. (

“In our view, while the South Coast stakeholder process had many positive outcomes, it failed to achieve what we call a ‘stable agreement’ – for example, near consensus was not reached, and our post hoc survey demonstrated that stakeholders do not now view the process as fair,” they wrote. “We assert that the pitfalls of the South Coast stakeholder process could have been avoided had the management and facilitation team consistently considered and applied best practices in dispute resolution.”

Their analysis confirms the assessments of recreational anglers, Tribal leaders and gatherers, commercial fishermen and grassroots environmentalists that the entire MLPA Initiative was unfair and failed to produce stable agreements based on the best science, respect for tribal gathering rights and environmental justice.