Arnold's Legacy: Polluted Beaches and Fake Marine 'Protection'

Dan Bacher

"Our hope is that Governor Brown will take heed of what Tribal people and recreational anglers are saying about the MLPA and other water issues," said Georgiana Myers, organizer for the Klamath Justice Coalition and Yurok Tribe member. "I encourage the Governor-elect to have not just big oil and corporate interests at heart, but to listen to the real Californians who use the ocean."

Arnold's Legacy: Polluted Beaches and Fake Marine 'Protection'
by Dan Bacher

Outgoing Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and his supporters celebrated the decision by the California Fish and Game Commission on December 15 to create a network of so-called "marine protected areas" off the Southern California coast as a glorious, historic event.

“This vote will help restore southern California’s legacy of abundant sea life,” said Kaitilin Gaffney of The Ocean Conservancy. “After decades of treating the ocean as inexhaustible, by protecting ocean jewels like South La Jolla, Point Dume and Naples Reef, the Commission has turned the tide towards conservation.”

“California’s ocean habitats are every bit as dramatic as those on land. Just as we protected Yosemite and Kings Canyon on land, California is leading the way in preserving special places in the sea,” said Karen Garrison of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).

Members of North Coast Indian Tribes and their allies peacefully took control of the MLPA Blue Ribbon Task Force meeting in Fort Bragg on July 21. 2010. Photo by Matt Mais, Yurok Tribe

Likewise, the Department of Fish and Game gushed in a press release, "Informed by recommendations generated through a two-year public planning process, the regulations will create 36 new MPAs encompassing approximately 187 square miles (8 percent) of state waters in the study region. Approximately 116 square miles (4.9 percent) have been designated as no-take state marine reserves (82.5 square miles/3.5 percent) and no-take state marine conservation areas (33.5 square miles/1.4 percent), with the remainder designated as state marine conservation areas with different take allowances and varying levels of protection."

However, what MLPA advocates fail to mention is Schwarzenegger actually eviscerated the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) in his implementation of the historic law. The MLPA Initiative, in a classic example of corporate greenwashing, took water pollution, oil drilling and spills, military testing, wave energy projects, corporate aquaculture and all other human uses of the ocean other than fishing and gathering off the table.

The analogy that MLPA advocates make of the so-called "marine protected areas" to National Parks like Yosemite and Kings Canyon is absurd and completely inaccurate.

First, the national parks don't prohibit fishing like the MLPA does. You can fish in Yosemite and Kings Canyon - it is one of the many recreational activities that visitors can enjoy when they go to these parks.

Second, the creation of the National Parks wasn't implemented through funding by a private corporation like the MLPA has been. The MLPA, setting a dangerous precedent for conservation and public policy in California, has been funded since 2004 by the shadowy Resources Legacy Fund Foundation, what John Lewallen, a longtime North Coast environmentalist, describes as a "money laundering" operation for corporations.

Third, oil spills, oil drilling, military testing, aquaculture and water pollution aren't allowed in National Parks. In contrast with the National Parks, the MLPA doesn't prohibit human activities other than fishing and gathering in the "marine protected areas" that Schwarzenegger has relentlessly promoted.

The absurdity of Schwarzenegger's MLPA fiasco is exposed in Phil Friedman's excellent commentary ( today in the LA Daily News on the pollution and trash that has plagued southern California beaches since the record rainstorms hit the region this winter. The MLPA, if and when it is implemented under the Brown administration next year, will do nothing to stop this rampant water pollution.

"The recent rains and subsequent urban runoff left Long Beach harbor and surrounding beaches a disgusting mess with trash and debris floating everywhere.

Besides the usual plastic bags and styrofoam cups which remain on earth forever, there has been some dead animals, in addition to anything else that people put into storm drains.

Some people think the proposed Marine Life Protection Act closures along our coast is the panacea that will ensure a healthy ocean. But until we address the real problems of urban runoff and pollution, we are doomed to polluted seas with terrible environmental consequences.

Fishermen were an easy mark in the MLPA process. For the most part, they lacked the political clout and funds necessary to prevail. Anglers are more disgusted than anyone when they see acres of floating debris choking the life out of the sea they love so much.

The MLPA process may have resulted in some chest thumping and high-fiving by those who think that they have done something important to protect our precious seas. Unfortunately, this is way more important that another hallow political victory or the legacy of a governor."

Thanks, Phil, for your insightful comments.

Jerry Brown, who will be inaugurated as Governor in Sacramento on January 3, has not indicated what direction he will take regarding the implementation of the MLPA. However, I hope that he heeds the advice of fishermen, Indian Tribes and environmentalists to suspend or cancel the MLPA Initiative.

The south coast study region is the third of five study regions to complete the planning process under the MLPA. Once implemented, the south coast marine protected areas (MPAs) will join the MPAs currently in place from the central and north central coast study regions to form a network ranging approximately 875 miles from the California border with Mexico to Alder Creek near Point Arena in Mendocino County, according to the DFG.

The Fish and Game Commission will receive recommendations for the north coast study region from the North Coast Blue Ribbon Task Force at its February 2-3 meeting at the Resources Building Auditorium, 1416 Ninth Street, in Sacramento. "This will mark the start of the formal regulatory process and planning is under way to develop the planning process for San Francisco Bay, the fifth and final study region," the DFG said.

The Coastal Justice Coalition, Klamath Justice Coalition, Yurok Tribe and other North Coast Tribes will be mobilizing people to attend the Sacramento meeting to prevent the Commission from making any last minute attempt to terminate tribal fishing and gathering rights on the North Coast. For more information, go to:

Since the process was privatized in 2004, the MLPA has done its best to marginalize and exclude the input of California Indian Tribes. The MLPA Science Advisory Team included not one single tribal scientist, in spite of the fact that Tribes have resources departments filled with fishery biologists and other scientists. And the MLPA Blue Ribbon Task Force did not have a single Tribal representative on it until 2010.

The task forces, which are supposedly designed to oversee the implementation of "marine protection" in California, have been dominated by oil industry, marina development, real estate and other corporate interests that have no place serving as "marine guardians." In fact, Catherine Reheis-Boyd, the president of the Western States Petroleum Association who has called for new oil drilling off the California coast, served as chair of the South Coast task force and sat on the North Coast and North Central Coast panels.

The Inter-Tribal Water Commission and California Indian Heritage Council exposed the MLPA Initiative for the farce that is in a superb letter they sent to NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco on December 8.

"California Tribes and Tribal communities are vehemently opposed to the development of marine protected areas identified by the singular array recommended by the northcoast regional stakeholder group," wrote Atta P. Stevenson, Randy Yonemura, Shanti Warlick and Bill Jacobson of the Inter-Tribal Water Commission and California Indian Heritage Council. "The MLPA assessment tool is flawed as it was developed by scientists excluding the socioeconomic, cultural, historic traditional fishing and stewardship practices of the California Tribes, which include stewardship of the land and all resources together and not separately as done by agency scientists and private contractors, as in ‘science for sale’ for the betterment of corporate America." For more information, go to:

One promising sign by the incoming Brown administration is that he has told Lester Snow, Schwarzenegger's Natural Resources Secretary, that he won't be allowed to stay under the Brown administration. Snow has been a strong backer of the MLPA Initiative and plans to build a peripheral canal and new dams.

"Our hope is that Governor Brown will take heed of what Tribal people and recreational anglers are saying about the MLPA and other water issues," said Georgiana Myers, organizer for the Klamath Justice Coalition and Yurok Tribe member. "I encourage the Governor-elect to have not just big oil and corporate interests at heart, but to listen to the real Californians who use the ocean."