The questions that MLPA Initiative advocates refuse to answe

Dan Bacher

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? Isn't this very bad public policy?

The questions that MLPA advocates refuse to answer
by Dan Bacher

Officials from Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s fast-track Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative and their supporters keep repeating the mantra that the process is "open, transparent and inclusive" and "science-based" as part of a well-funded propaganda campaign to greenwash Schwarzenegger's abysmal environmental legacy before he leaves office.

The proponents of the process refuse to address the many criticisms that advocates of true ocean protection have leveled against the MLPA Initiative. I have challenged MLPA proponents to answer a series of hard questions that cut to the core of the current MLPA process.

None have responded yet to my specific questions, but only continue to repeat their unsubstantiated claims that the Initiative is “open, transparent and inclusive” and that anybody who criticizes the initiative is an opponent of “ocean protection.”

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).

However, the implementation of the law under Schwarzenegger has become a parody of real marine protection. The MLPA process under Schwarzenegger has taken oil drilling, water pollution, wave energy development, habitat destruction and other human uses of the ocean other than fishing and gathering off the table. The MLPA would do nothing to stop another Exxon Valdez or Deepwater Horizon oil disaster from devastating the California coast.

Here are the questions:

Why did the Governor and MLPA officials install an oil industry lobbyist, a marina developer, a real estate executive and other corporate interests as “marine guardians” to remove Indian Tribes, fishermen and seaweed harvesters from the water by creating so-called "marine protected areas" (MPAS)? Isn’t this very bad public policy?

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 and as a member of the BRTF for the North Coast, panels that are supposedly designed to “protect” the ocean, when she has called for new oil drilling off the California coast? Do we want to see oil rigs off Point Arena, Fort Bragg and other areas of some of the most beautiful coastline of North America?

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?

Why do the MLPA Blue Ribbon Task Force (BRTF) and Science Advisory Team continue to violate the California Public Records Act by refusing to respond to numerous requests by Bob Fletcher, former DFG Deputy Director, for key documents and records pertaining to the MLPA implementation process?

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?

Why did MLPA staff until recently violate the Bagley-Keene Act and the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution by banning video and audio coverage of the initiative’s work sessions?

Why has the Initiative shown little or no respect for tribal subsistence and ceremonial rights? In fact, it was only because of massive opposition by North Coast Tribes and their allies that an amendment that would have terminated tribal fishing and gathering rights failed to pass during a special MLPA Blue Ribbon Task Force teleconference meeting held in Fort Bragg, Crescent City and Eureka on December 9.

Since the MLPA was privatized in 2004, the initiative has violated the American Indian Religious Freedom Act and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People. Article 32, Section 2, of the Declaration mandates “free prior and informed consent” in consultation with the indigenous population affected by a state action (

The MLPA also violates Article 26, Section 3, that declares, “States shall give legal recognition and protection to these lands, territories and resources. Such recognition shall be conducted with due respect to the customs, traditions and land tenure systems of the indigenous peoples concerned.”

The unified proposal adopted by North Coast MLPA Blue Ribbon Task Force is the first MLPA proposal that acknowledges tribal gathering and fishing rights, a tribute to the hard work of the Tribal, fishing and environmental stakeholders. However, why did it take 6 years for this to happen?

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? Isn't this a case of institutional racism on behalf of MLPA officials?

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.

Finally, why did 300 Tribal members, fishermen, immigrant workers and environmentalists feel so left out of the MLPA process that they had to organize a march and direct action to take over a MLPA Blue Ribbon Task Force meeting in Fort Bragg of July 21 so their voices would be finally heard?

Proponents of the MLPA Initiative have failed to address the many criticisms of the MLPA process by Indian Tribes, recreational fishermen, commercial fishermen, conservationists and environmental justice advocates.

Real environmentalists support true, comprehensive ocean protection as the MLPA originally intended, not the facade of protection that Schwarzenegger's MLPA Initiative provides.

Real environmentalists don't support a process that has gone to great lengths to take oil drilling, water pollution, wave energy development, habitat destruction, military testing and other human uses of the ocean other than fishing and gathering off the table in its perverse concept of marine "protection."

Finally, real environmentalists oppose the privatization of ocean conservation that has occurred under the MLPA Initiative.

The MLPA process must be seen in the context of the campaign by the Schwarzenegger administration, corporate media, some NGOs and political hacks to greenwash the environmental legacy of the worst Governor in California history for fish, water and the environment. This is the same Governor who presided over the unprecedented collapse of Central Valley chinook salmon, Delta smelt, longfin smelt, green sturgeon, Sacramento splittail and other fish species, relentlessly campaigned for the construction of an environmentally destructive and enormously expensive peripheral canal and new dams and vetoed numerous laws protecting fish, water and the environment.

Photo: Thomas O'Rourke, chairman of the Yurok Tribe, speaks at a protest in defense of tribal rights at a MLPA Blue Ribbon Task Force meeting in Fort Bragg on July 21.

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