The MLPA Initiative Does Not Protect the Ocean
By Dan Bacher
Ray Hiemstra, the associate director of Orange County Coastkeeper, has written an article,” MLPA's Public-Private Partnership Protects Oceans During Lean Budget Times,” that includes a number of false claims in his attempt to extol the virtues of the private foundation funding behind Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative.
First, he claims, "Of course, the foundations involved do support the MLPA and the idea of setting aside a network of protected waters to ensure the long-term health of our ocean and marine life. So yes, they have an agenda: they want to implement the law."
That is simply not true: the foundations and MLPA advocates have gone out of their way to NOT implement the law.
He completely fails to address the essential problem with the privatized MLPA Initiative: the process has taken water pollution, oil spills and drilling, military testing, corporate aquaculture, habitat destruction, wave energy projects and all other impacts on the ocean other than fishing and gathering off the table in its bizarre concept of marine protection. The MLPA Initiative doesn't "protect" the ocean!
Hiemstra and other MLPA Initiative advocates should actually read the law. The Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) is a comprehensive, landmark law that was signed by Governor Gray Davis in 1999. The MLPA, as amended in 2004, is very broad in its scope.
The law was intended to not only restrict or prohibit fishing in a network of “marine protected areas,” but to restrict or prohibit other human activities including coastal development and water pollution.
“Coastal development, water pollution, and other human activities threaten the health of marine habitat and the biological diversity found in California’s ocean waters,” the law states in Fish and Game Code Section 2851, section c.
The law also broadly defines a “marine protected area” (MPA) as “a named, discrete geographic marine or estuarine area seaward of the mean high tide line or the mouth of a coastal river, including any area of inertial or sub tidal terrain, together with its overlying water and associated flora and fauna that has been designated by law, administrative action, or voter initiative to protect or conserve marine life and habitat” (Fish and Game Code 2852, section c).
Furthermore, the law also defines a "Marine life reserve," as “a marine protected area in which all extractive activities, including the taking of marine species, and, at the discretion of the commission and within the authority of the commission, other activities that upset the natural ecological functions of the area, are prohibited. While, to the extent feasible, the area shall be open to the public for managed enjoyment and study, the area shall be maintained to the extent practicable in an undisturbed and unpolluted state” (Fish and Game Code 2852, section d).
Unlike the original language of the MLPA, “all extractive activities” are not prohibited under Schwarzenegger’s MLPA Initiative – just fishing and gathering. Neither are “other activities that upset the natural ecological functions of the area” prohibited under the current fake marine protected areas.
In addition, the MLPA Initiative, in violation of the original law, does nothing to maintain “to the extent practicable” the marine protected areas “in an undisturbed and unpolluted state.” Again, the implementation of the law under the MLPA focuses exclusively on fishing and gathering.
Second, Hiemstra states, “California is working to create the nation’s first science-based, statewide ocean park system as part of the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA). A group of non-profit foundations is helping to pay for the public planning process to ensure the state can move ahead with critically needed ocean protections during these tight times.”
His claim that the MLPA aims to create “ocean parks” is without any basis in fact. In actuality, these are not “parks.” Recreational fishing is allowed – and in most cases encouraged – in regional, state and national parks. The fake marine protected areas set up under the worst Governor for fish and the environment in California history, Arnold Schwarzenegger, are no-fishing zones – that is essentially all they do.
The MLPA Initiative does not create “Yosemites of the Sea,” as corporate environmental NGO representatives constantly claim. You can fish in Yosemite and other national parks, but you can't fish in the initiative's "no take" zones.
Also, oil drilling, wave energy projects, military testing, energy development and water pollution and extractive activities are prohibited in the National Parks and other parks, unlike the fake marine protected areas created under the MLPA Initiative.
Third, the claim that the initiative is "science-based" is also highly questionable. If it was "truly science based," why were no tribal scientists ever invited to serve on the MLPA Science Advisory Teams in the seven years since the MLPA process was privatized? Isn't this not only bad science, but a classic case of institutional racism?
If the process is truly "science-based," 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 California currently had the lowest rate of fishery exploitation of any place studied on the planet.
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. I challenge Hiemstra and other MLPA advocates to answer these questions.
The one I'm most interested in hearing the answer to is this one: 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? How can anybody possibly consider a process overseen by a lobbyist for big oil to be legitimate?
Here is my testimony:
Testimony before the Joint Legislative Committee on Fisheries and Aquaculture at the State Capitol in Sacramento on February 17 focusing on the South Coast Study Region of the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative:
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.
Dan Bacher is an editor of The Fish Sniffer, described as "The #1 Newspaper in the World Dedicated Entirely to Fishermen."