Legislators request time for testimony at North Coast MLPA hearing

Dan Bacher

"The Committee heard compelling testimony from North Coast Tribes that were unified in their concerns to protect their inherent rights to traditionally gather along the North Coast shoreline," they stated. "We ask for the Commission to respect Tribal interests and provide for adequate testimony from the Tribal perspective. We encourage you to work with the Tribes to develop a workable format for their full participation at your hearing by providing a block of time for tribal testimony."

Legislators request time for testimony at North Coast MLPA hearing
by Dan Bacher

Three North Coast legislators have requested the California Fish and Game Commission to provide sufficient time for them, Tribes and fishermen to provide testimony during the Commission's upcoming hearing in Sacramento regarding the implementation of the North Coast phase of the controversial Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative.

Assemblymember Wesley Chesbro (D-Arcata), Chair of the Joint Committee on Fisheries and Aquaculture and Senators Noreen Evans (D-Santa Rosa) and Doug LaMalfa (R-Richvale), also members of the Committee, made the request in a letter to Jim Kellogg, President of the California Fish and Game Commission, on January 25.

The Commission will hold the special hearing in conjunction with the MLPA Blue Ribbon Task Force to receive recommendations regarding marine protected areas proposed for the North Coast on Wednesday, February 2, 2010 at 10:00 a.m. at the Resources Building Auditorium, 1416 Ninth Street, First Floor, Sacramento, CA 95814.

"As you are aware, the Joint Committee on Fisheries and Aquaculture held a hearing on the North MLPA on January 21 in Eureka, California," Chesbro, Evans and LaMalfa wrote. "We want to share with the Commission what we heard from our constituents and stakeholders."

The Legislators also asked the Commission to allocate time for representatives of North Coast Indian Tribes, as well from the regional stakeholders from the fishing, environmental and business communities, to speak before the Commission regarding their concerns regarding the MLPA process.

"The Committee heard compelling testimony from North Coast Tribes that were unified in their concerns to protect their inherent rights to traditionally gather along the North Coast shoreline," they stated. "We ask for the Commission to respect Tribal interests and provide for adequate testimony from the Tribal perspective. We encourage you to work with the Tribes to develop a workable format for their full participation at your hearing by providing a block of time for tribal testimony."

During the hearing, Thomas O'Rourke, chair of the Yurok Tribal Council, stated, "This act infringes on our rights. We will not surrender this right. Our rights are not negotiable.”

Chesbro, Evans and LaMalfa requested a block of time of the Regional Stakeholder Group (RSG) to provide group input during a "brief presentation." The RSG members, for the first time in the history of the contentious MLPA process adopted a unified proposal, rather than different proposals as was done in the Central Coast, North Coast and Central Coast MLPA processes.

"Additionally, we urge you to allow for a briefing from Option Zero supporters," the letter concludes.

Supporters of Option Zero support managing fisheries on the Coast through existing regulations - and criticize the MLPA process for setting up marine protected areas that fail to protect the ocean from water pollution, oil spills and drilling, military testing, wave energy projects and all other uses of the ocean other than fishing and gathering.

MLPA critics also slam the process for its many conflicts of interest, including the domination of the MLPA Blue Ribbon Task Forces by oil industry, real estate, marina development and other corporate interests. In fact, Catherine Reheis-Boyd, the president of the Western States Petroleum Association, served on both the North Central Coast and North Coast task forces and chaired the South coast task force.

As required by Administrative Procedures Act, the Commission will hold three hearings on the North Coast marine protected areas prior to adoption. They hope to hold at least one hearing on the North Coast.

At the February 3 meeting the Commission will adopt their calendar for the year - and it is likely a North Coast meeting will be scheduled for fall 2011, according to Chesbro's office.

The Commission will base public testimony time as per their guidelines on the agenda. It will be determined based on the number of people that desire to testify and the amount of time available.

Generally, the Commission allows members of the legislature to speak first. Other elected officials speak next and are often provided 3-5 minutes. Public testimony follows.

On the day of hearing, the public can view or hear the meeting via simultaneous webcast at http://www.fgc.ca.gov/meetings/FGCmeetingsvideolinks.asp.

The complete coverage of the January 21 hearing, chaired by Assemblymember Chesbro, is available on-demand on Access Humboldt's Community Media Archive: http://www.archive.org/details/AH-jcfa_1-21-11. In addition, an audio file of the hearing is also posted online: http://ia700409.us.archive.org/24/items/AH-jcfa_1-21-11/jcfa_1-21-11.mp3.

To read the Inter-Tribal Water Commission's Position Paper on the MLPA presented during the hearing, go to: http://www.itwatercommission.org.

Anglers launch lawsuit against illegal marine closures

In other breaking MLPA news, member organizations of the Partnership for Sustainable Oceans (PSO), a coalition representing California’s recreational fishing and boating community, have filed a lawsuit in the San Diego County Superior Court seeking to set aside regulations established by the California Fish and Game Commission in connection with Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative.

The commission approved regulations for the North Central and South Coast study regions in August 2009 and December 2010, respectively, establishing marine protected areas – essentially no-fishing zones – in large areas of the state’s coastal waters.

The lawsuit, filed by United Anglers of Southern California, Coastside Fishing Club and Robert C. Fletcher, cites a lack of statutory authority for adopting 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, according to a news release from the Partnership for Sustainable Oceans.

"From the outset, it was clear that the MLPA process was set up to reach a predetermined outcome under the fiction of an allegedly open and transparent process," said Bob Fletcher, former president of the Sportfishing Association of California. "In a rush to establish regulations based on political timelines and a pre-determined agenda, the Fish and Game Commission has ignored the legal requirements it must follow."

Most notably, the petition states that:

• The commission does not have the statutory authority to adopt, modify or delete marine protected areas under the MLPA's main rulemaking provisions until it has approved a final Master Plan for the state. The final Master Plan has yet to be written or approved.

• The other statutory authorities that the commission relies on do not provide the commission with the authority it needs to adopt these MPAs.

• The privately-funded "MLPA Initiative" process has been conducted in a manner inconsistent with the process the state legislature directed in the MLPA, and meetings held by MLPA planning groups that should have been open meetings were closed to the public. The shadowy Resources Legacy Fund Foundation, a private corporation, funds the implementation of so-called marine protected areas through a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the California Department of Fish and Game.

• The South Coast study region regulations were adopted on the basis of an environmental review process that is in violation of CEQA.

"Our concerns were presented to the commission prior to its December 2010 vote to approve regulations for the South Coast," Fletcher said. "Ignoring the information before them, the commission went forward with approving regulations to close 116 square miles of southern California’s coastal waters to recreational fishing. Many of the best sportfishing areas are included in the closures.

"These closures don't just disappoint the fishermen – they take away jobs and income for many California small businesses along the coast and elsewhere," Fletcher emphasized. " Particularly concerning are the flaws in a regulatory process that has been fueled with private money from special interests. The end result of this process has been a rush by the commission to adopt regulations without the authority it has to have to adopt them, and without a proper review of the environmental consequences of what they're doing. That should be a concern for all Californians, whether they fish for fun or for a living, or whether they've never been fishing at all."

"Much of the best fishing areas are now closed under the MLPA process," noted Dan Wolford, Science Director for the Coastside Fishing Club. "Anglers in the North Central region are now suffering because of excessive, unnecessary closures that we believe were improperly established. We find it extremely concerning that anglers, who are the original conservationists, are being taken off the water through a seriously flawed process, while the real threats to the health of our ocean, such as contaminated stormwater runoff and industrial pollutants, are allowed to continue unabated."

The petition is the second lawsuit involving the MLPA by members of the PSO. In May 2010, Fletcher filed suit against the MLPA Blue Ribbon Task Force and Master Plan Team – also known as the Science Advisory Team – for failing to respond to a Public Records Act request, as state agencies are required to do.

These groups claimed that they were not required to make their records available to the public on the ground that they are not "state agencies." Last October, a California Superior Court ruled that the Blue Ribbon Task Force and the Science Advisory Team are indeed state agencies and therefore are compelled by California’s Public Records Act to share information that they were withholding from public view.

"The good intentions of the MLPA have been derailed by private interests and political motivations," said Fletcher. "We urge anglers, outdoors enthusiasts and anyone who supports good government and the public’s right to know what its government is doing, to visit http://www.oceanaccessprotectionfund.org and donate what they can to help us to continue to fight this flawed process in the courts."

Besides the two PSO lawsuits, David Gurney, an independent film maker from Fort Bragg, is suing MLPA officials and state agencies in Mendocino County Superior Court over his arrest for recording and speaking at a "work session" in Fort Bragg on April 20, 2010.

"California's open meeting laws guarantee that citizens and members of the press have a right to keep track of what goes on in a public process, and assures they will not be harassed at public meetings," said Gurney and his lawyer Peter Martin in a news release. "Yet the Marine Life Protection Act Initiative, funded by the secretive Resources Legacy Fund Foundation, often had secret, unrecorded meetings, changed the rules of their process at whim, and abided only by the laws of their own choosing."

The defendants in the complaint include the California Department of Fish and Game, California Natural Resources Agency, Eric Bloom, Ken Wiseman, Eric Poncelet and the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative.