Anglers, Local Officials, Business Leaders to Urge Legislature to Protect Marine Life Protection Act

Posted on 16 February 2011

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By Richard Charter
Defenders of Wildlife

Business leaders, anglers, local officials, and ocean advocates will attend a legislative hearing on Thursday to ask lawmakers to protect the landmark Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) from an assault by foreign fishing interests. The hearing on the South Coast MLPA plan will take place before the Joint Committee on Fisheries and Aquaculture on Thursday, February 17, 2011 from 10 a.m. to 12 noon.

Southern California’s coastal economy employs more than seven million people and contributes nearly $900 billion to the overall state economy. Over-fishing is a leading environmental and socioeconomic problem—it hurts biodiversity and alters ecosystems. The average size across a wide range of West Coast fish is down by half from 20 years ago. Scientific studies show that marine protected areas help restore biodiversity and resilience, and have more big, prolific animals than fished areas.

In 1999, California adopted the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) to restore the health of sensitive ocean habitats and reverse a century of decline. The MLPA is the first state law of its kind, creating a comprehensive network of underwater parks, or marine protected areas, to ensure our ocean remains healthy and productive for future generations.

The state’s new network of protected areas is being designed regionally, through a participatory public process that uses the best available science and allows for extensive community input. However, foreign fishing equipment manufacturers have launched an “Astroturf” group called “Partnership for Sustainable Oceans” (PSO, and filed suit to try to kill the consensus ocean protection plan.

Plans for the south coast region—which stretches from Point Conception in Santa Barbara to the border with Mexico—were completed in December 2010, when the Fish and Game Commission voted to adopt a balanced marine protected area network that protects the region’s most iconic ocean areas while leaving nearly 90 percent of state waters open for fishing.

The final south coast plan was designed to balance fishing access with habitat protection. It was developed during two years of study and negotiations by local stakeholders, scientists, and policy experts. The planning process included more than 50 public meetings, with over 100 hours of public testimony and tens of thousands of comments submitted online or by mail. There was overwhelming community support for protection of iconic surf, dive, tide pool, and kayaking areas.  The plan includes:

  • A marine conservation area that protects the unique and productive habitats at Santa Barbara’s Naples Reef while allowing continued kelp harvest and spearfishing.
  • A marine reserve around the headland and submarine canyon at Point Dume, with a marine conservation area to the east protecting kelp forests while allowing some fishing.
  • A Laguna Beach marine reserve that extends longstanding coastal protection in south Orange County while leaving Dana Point Harbor and offshore areas open.
  • A marine conservation area that protects the kelp, surfgrass, and estuarine habitat at Swamis Reef while allowing recreational spearfishing.
  • A marine reserve and conservation area in south La Jolla, which has the highest species diversity and habitat complexity in San Diego County, and the lowest fishing usage of any section of La Jolla.  

The compromise plan was designed to minimize short-term economic impacts and ensure the future sustainability of the fishing industry.  It protects key feeding and breeding grounds while leaving popular fishing areas open.


Richard Charter is a Senior Policy Advisor for Marine Programs at Defenders of Wildlife.

You sir, are full of shit, to put it mildly.


Below is a transcript of my testimony before the committee in which I pose the 10 questions that proponents of the controversial, privately funded process refuse to answer:

Assemblymember Chesbro, thanks so much for convening today’s hearing.

In my 28 years of journalism covering fish and water in California, the MLPA Initiative is the most corrupt process that I have ever covered. Here are the 10 questions I have posed to MLPA Initiative advocates and officials regarding the many flaws in the South Coast MLPA process. To date, they have failed to answer these questions.

1. Why did Schwarzenegger and MLPA officials install an oil industry lobbyist, a marina developer, a real estate executive and other corporate operatives with numerous conflicts of interest on the MLPA Blue Ribbon Task Force for the South Coast to remove Indian Tribes, fishermen and seaweed harvesters from the water by creating so-called “marine protected areas” (MPAS)?

2. Why was Catherine Reheis-Boyd, the president of the Western States Petroleum Association, allowed to make decisions as the chair of the BRTF for the South Coast, a panel that is supposedly designed to “protect” the ocean, when she has called for new oil drilling off the California coast?

3. Why has the MLPA Initiative taken water pollution, oil spills and drilling, military testing, corporate aquaculture, habitat destruction and all other impacts on the ocean other than fishing and gathering off the table in its bizarre concept of marine protection?

4. Why is a private corporation, the shadowy Resources Legacy Fund Foundation, being allowed to privatize ocean resource management in California through a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the DFG?

5. Why do MLPA staff and the California Fish and Game Commission refuse to hear the pleas of the representatives of the California Fish and Game Wardens Association, who oppose the creation of any new MPAs until they have enough funding for wardens to patrol existing reserves?

6. Why were there no Tribal scientists on the MLPA Science Advisory Team and why were there no Tribal representatives on the Blue Ribbon Task Forces for the Central Coast, North Central Coast or South Coast MLPA Study Regions?

7. Why does the initiative discard the results of any scientists who disagree with the MLPA’s pre-ordained conclusions? These include the peer reviewed study by Dr. Ray Hilborn, Dr. Boris Worm and 18 other scientists, featured in Science magazine in July 2009, that concluded that the California current had the lowest rate of fishery exploitation of any place studied on the planet.

8. Why did the MLPA Blue Ribbon Task Force hold illegal secret meetings, including those held in April 2007 and on November 3, 2008, December 10, 2008, February 25, 2009, October 20, 21 and 22, 2009, as revealed in a 25 page document presented to the California Fish and Game Commission on February 2?

9. Why did it take a lawsuit by a coalition of fishing organizations to get the emails and correspondence by MLPA officials documenting these private, non-public meetings disclosed to the public?

10. Why did it take the outrage over the arrest of an independent journalist last spring to open work sessions of the MLPA to coverage by video-journalists?

I urge you and other Legislators to think hard about these questions and begin a formal investigation into the violation of laws that may have occurred under the MLPA as soon as possible.

Thank You
Dan Bacher