California Fish and Game Commission Breaks Promise to Anglers

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Commission moves forward with plan to postpone MPA assessments 

On April 13, the California Fish and Game Commission moved forward with a controversial final Marine Protected Area “Master Plan” that postpones environmental assessments from every 5 years, as originally promised, to every 10 years.

In what the California Sportfishing League described as “a stunning admission,” the Commission at its meeting in Santa Rosa introduced the possibility that recreational fishing may never return to California’s coastal waters designated as so-called “marine reserves” under the privately-funded Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative.

The three current members of the commission – President Eric Sklar, Vice President Jacque Hostler-Carmesin, and Member Anthony C. Williams – voted unanimously to approve the plan at its June meeting, in spite of the objection of California anglers and conservationists,

The Commission failed to acknowledge that the alleged “Yosemites of the Sea” created under the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative are in reality faux “marine protected areas,” crafted under the helm of a Big Oil lobbyist, that fail to protect the ocean from pollution, fracking, oil drilling, corporate aquaculture, military testing and all human impacts on the ocean other than sustainable fishing and gathering.

“The state’s failure to study Marine Protected Areas in a timely fashion is having a profound impact on communities that depend on recreational fishing for outdoor tourism and jobs,” said Marko Mlikotin executive director of the California Sportfishing League (CSL) in a news release. “It is evident that Marine Protected Areas that were once viewed as marine restoration projects are becoming permanent fishing bans.”

CSL, a nonprofit coalition of fresh and saltwater anglers and small business owners devoted to protecting access to recreational fishing, said that in order to assure California anglers that MPA fishing bans would not become permanent, “the state promised that environmental assessments would be conducted every five years so that if fishing populations were restored, so would recreational fishing.”

“In a stunning admission, newly appointed commissioners rejected the notion that any such commitment was ever made and that marine restoration programs were never intended to restore recreational fishing to coastal waters designated as Marine Reserves,” according to the group. “The president of the commission, Eric Sklar, also stated that fishing may not be restored during his lifetime,”

In contrast to Sklar’s comment, here’s what the MLPA Initiative South Coast News, the official publication of the Initiative, actually said on October 16,2009. This completely contradicts Sklar’s statement:

“Q: If an area is closed as an MPA will it always be closed?

A: Not necessarily. The MLPA specifically requires monitoring, research and evaluation at selected sites to facilitate adaptive management of MPAs and ensure the system meets its goals and objectives. Within the MLPA master plan, it is recommended that the MPA network be evaluated approximately every five years. As MPAs are re-assessed for effectiveness, changes may be necessary, either to individual MPAs or the network as a whole. This may mean changing boundaries and/or allowances for extractive activities depending on how well MPAs are meeting goals. Just because an area is closed to one type of use or another does not mean that it will always be that way.”

The only senior member of the commission, Jacqueline Hostler-Carmesin, acknowledged that during North Coast stakeholder meetings concerns were raised that temporary fishing restrictions would become permanent.

“In order to build public support for Marine Protected Areas, the state reassured anglers, time after time, that environmental assessments would be conducted every five years so that when fishing populations returned, so would sportfishing,” said Paul Lebowitz, a former member of the state’s South Coast Regional Stakeholder Group. “Today, the commission is breaking faith with California anglers by introducing what appears to be at best an uncertain environmental review process and at worst, a permanent fishing ban.”

The Commission is currently operating with only three commissioners and two vacancies, due to the resignations of two Commissioners and the Executive Director under the administration of one of the worst Governors for fish, water and the environment in California history, Jerry Brown.

In addition to “completing” the severely flawed MLPA Initiative, Brown is currently pushing the California Water Fix plan to build the salmon-killing Delta Tunnels; promoting the expansion of environmentally-devastating fracking in California, and overseeing water policies that are driving Sacramento River winter-run Chinook salmon, Central Valley steelhead, Delta and longfin smelt, green sturgeon and other fish species closer and closer to the abyss of extinction. For more information on Jerry Brown’s real environmental record, go to:

Central Coast study: “We didn’t see much change that could be attributed to the MPA status”

State officials have claimed 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 MPAs, particularly in cold water regions, are not seeing the boom in fish populations to date that MLPA Initiative proponents had hoped for.

For example, 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, under what they falsely described as the “most open, transparent and inclusive” process in California history, would result in dramatically improved fish populations 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. (

The inconvenient truths and broken promises of the MLPA Initiative

The Commission’s breaking of their promise to review the MPAs once every five years is only one of the “inconvenient truths” of the MLPA Initative – and one in a long series of broken promises. Although I have reviewed these inconvenient truths before in my articles, they are very important to go over again, since I am the only journalist who has explored the real issues behind the MLPA Initiative in any depth. The mainstream media and many “alternative” media have censored any discussion of these “inconvenient truths.”

First, the marine protected areas created under the MLPA Initiative process, funded privately by the shadowy Resources Legacy 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 advocates still fail to address the immense conflict of interest posed by Catherine Reheis-Boyd, President of the Western States Petroleum Association, 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 North Coast 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 proponents 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.