State officials misinformed California anglers on ocean closures

author: 
Dan Bacher

Grassroots environmental leaders, including John Lewallen, the co-founder of the Ocean Protection Coalition and the North Coast Seaweed Rebellion, are supporting the litigation against the Marine Life Protection Act Initiative, in contrast with some corporate environmental NGOS that back the process.

State officials misinformed California anglers on ocean closures

by Dan Bacher

A national coalition of recreational anglers is concerned that "misinformation" by state officials has led many anglers to believe that new marine protected areas off Southern California have already gone into effect when they have not.

The fishing groups also note that litigation challenging the legitimacy of these closures, implemented under a privately funded process infested with conflicts of interest and corruption, may prevent these closures from ever going into effect.

The California Fish and Game Commission, at its meeting in Stockton on June 29, voted to delay implementing regulations adopted last December for the Southern California Coast under Arnold Schwarzenegger's controversial Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) until October 1, 2011.

At the same meeting, the Commission accepted a "preferred alternative" that "failed to affirm traditional tribal gathering" in the North Coast Study Region MLPA Initiative, according to a statement from the Yurok Tribe.

"In a 4-1 vote, Commissioners selected this day (October 1) to better inform affected ocean users of the new regulations in the South Coast Study Region, which spans from Point Conception in Santa Barbara County to the U.S./Mexico border," said Jordan Traverso, spokesman for the Department of Fish and Game (DFG).

On Dec. 15, 2010, the Commission adopted regulations to create a network of highly-contested "marine protected areas" (MPAs) in Southern California waters. Developed under the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) planning process funded by the shadowy Resources Legacy Foundation, this network of 49 MPAs and three special closures covers approximately 354 square miles of state waters and represents approximately 15 percent of the region.

"The regulatory package is being prepared for the Office of Administrative Law (OAL) and the date selected allows time for OAL review and approval, finalizing the lawmaking process," Jordan added.

A news release from Keep America Fishing (http://www.keepamericafishing.org) on July 8 emphasized, "These new South Coast regulations, which would close much of southern California's best coastal waters to sportfishing, are not yet in effect. Misinformation – including statements by the Department of Fish and Game several months ago – has many anglers under the false impression that these waters are now and have been closed since early spring."

"Anglers need to understand that the 'marine protected areas' designated by the Commission last December are still open for fishing, and will be at least until October 1 of this year," said Mike Leonard, Ocean Resource Policy director for the American Sportfishing Association (ASA).

Validity of regulations challenged in court

"And, the validity of these regulations is being challenged in court; that battle is far from over," noted Leonard. "Much can happen between now and October 1. The Department should not have made statements that the areas are already closed. These statements are simply not true and are unfair to the millions of anglers who pay for California's fisheries management through license sales and the federal excise tax on fishing tackle and motorboat fuels."

The Department's Ocean Sport Fishing Regulations booklet, posted March 1, 2011, erroneously states that the regulations went into effect in "spring 2011." Prior to the vote, the department's website stated only that the regulations were expected to be effective "mid-2011."

The Partnership for Sustainable Oceans (PSO), a coalition of organizations representing California's recreational fishing and boating community, sent a letter to the DFG in response to the general uncertainty within the sportfishing community regarding the South Coast MLPA regulations. The group expressed its serious concerns about the misinformation provided to anglers about the effective date of the South Coast MLPA regulations.

The errors have since been corrected, but the confusion over conflicting messages issued earlier this year by state officials remains.

"We've never seen a state so determined to destroy an activity that generates both income and jobs and as well as funding for fisheries conservation," Leonard said.

"In talking with numerous anglers, I've noticed that there is still considerable confusion about whether or not coastal waters are still open to recreational fishing," said Bob Fletcher, former president of the Sportfishing Association of California. "The state's miscommunications are causing anglers to unnecessarily stay off the water for fear that the regulations are already in place."

In addition to controversies about their effective date, the MPA designations in the South Coast are currently being successfully challenged in the courts, the coalition stated. On January 27, 2011, United Anglers of Southern California, Coastside Fishing Club and Bob Fletcher filed a lawsuit in the San Diego County Superior Court seeking to set aside the MPA designations for the North Central and South Coast study regions.

The lawsuit cites a "lack of statutory authority" for the Fish and Game Commission to adopt 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.

On May 31, the California's sportfishing community claimed its third legal victory in the legal effort against the MLPA Initiative when a San Diego Superior Court judge ordered that two environmental ocean closure advocate organizations, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and The Ocean Conservancy, had no legal right to intervene in the aforementioned lawsuit.

Secret meetings in so-called 'open and transparent' process exposed!

In 2010, Fletcher filed and won a suit against the MLPA Blue Ribbon Task Force and Master Plan Team for failing to provide documents related to their MLPA planning efforts. These groups incorrectly claimed that they were not required to make their records available to the public under the Public Records Act on the mistaken theory that they are not "state agencies."

Once these records were finally disclosed, numerous long-standing suspicions about the lack of openness and transparency within the MLPA process were confirmed, including that the Blue Ribbon Task Force met numerous times outside of the public view in scheduled private meetings, according to the coalition.

George Osborn, PSO spokesman, presented a 25 page document documenting these illegal private, non-public meetings of MLPA officials to the Fish and Game Commission during its meeting on February 2 in Sacramento. During his public testimony, Osborn exposed the corruption and violations of law by the MLPA’s Blue Ribbon Task Force (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I7_04BC1acA).

“After reviewing the documents turned over to us, which previously the BRTF had improperly withheld from the public, we now have evidence, indicating that the public meetings of the BRTF have been an elaborately staged Kabuki performance, choreographed and rehearsed down to the last detail, even to the crafting of motions, in scheduled private meetings held before the so-called public meetings of the BRTF,” said Osborn. “Clearly, this has not been the most open and transparent process, as it has so often been described.”

On March 10, 2011, a California Superior Court ordered the Blue Ribbon Task Force and Master Plan Team to pay 100-percent of the legal fees incurred by members of the PSO in the Public Records Act case.

With three court victories in a row, it is clear that the MLPA Initiative created its "visionary" marine reserves in an illegal, highly orchestrated process that is a mockery of democracy and sound public policy.

The lack of openness and transparency under the initiative are no surprise when one considers that the so-called "marine protected areas" were developed under the "leadership" of Catherine Reheis Boyd, the president of the Western States Petroleum Association who has repeatedly called for new oil drilling off the California coast. Reheis-Boyd served as the chair of the MLPA Blue Ribbon Task Force for the South Coast, an egregious conflict of interest with her role as a big oil lobbyist.

It is no secret that the fake "marine protected areas" created under the MLPA Initiative are good for ocean industrialists like Reheis-Boyd, but bad for the ocean ecosystem and sustainable fishing communities. These false MPAs, apparently under pressure from corporate interests, fail to protect the ocean from oil spills and drilling, water pollution, military testing, wave and wind energy projects, corporate aquaculture and all other uses of the ocean other than fishing and gathering.

The urgent need to protect the ocean from industrialization became apparent on May 12, when the U.S. House of Representatives voted to open leasing for offshore oil and gas drilling in federal waters off the California coast in 2012.

To see the entire 25-page set of BRTF private meeting documents, go to the San Diego Freedivers website: http://www.sandiegofreedivers.com/MLPABRTFofflinemeetingdocumentation.pdf

Environmental leader urges support for lawsuit

Grassroots environmental leaders, including John Lewallen, the co-founder of the Ocean Protection Coalition and the North Coast Seaweed Rebellion, are supporting the litigation against the Marine Life Protection Act Initiative, in contrast with some corporate environmental NGOs that back the process.

"A California Superior Court lawsuit challenging the authority of the state to let the private Resources Legacy Fund Foundation operate a process of setting up Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) in violation of the 1999 Marine Life Protection Act, the California Environmental Quality Act, the Coastal Act, and other state laws, deserves the support of all Californians," said Lewallen.

Lewallen said United Anglers of Southern California, et.al., versus the California State Fish and Game Commission, has an "excellent legal team which has won a string of victories," and is headed for a July 11 hearing to discuss the heart of the case: whether the state has operated under the proper authority to issue the regulations that it did.

"If successful, the United Anglers lawsuit will invalidate all Marine Protected Areas created by the illegal and corrupt process financed and run by the Resources Legacy Fund Foundation on California’s South Coast and North Central Coast, probably leading to the invalidation of Marine Protected Areas declared on the Central Coast and proposed for the North Coast," emphasized Lewallen.

Lewallen has been in the forefront of grass roots campaigns against oil drilling, the clear cutting of ancient forests, wave energy projects and military testing off the coast and other environmental battles for over three decades. Unlike some well-funded initiative advocates who support greenwashing under the privatized MLPA process, Lewallen sees the MLPA Initiative for what it truly is- a resource grab by corporate interests.

Lewallen is the author of "Ecology of Devastation: Indochina" (Penguin Books, 1971) and "The Grass Roots Primer: How to Organize for Local Environmental Action," co-authored with James Robertson (Sierra Club Books,1975). He has written numerous articles on environmental issues for an array of publications since then.

All anglers, and anyone who supports public access to public resources, are urged to help fight the severely flawed MLPA process in the courts by visiting http://www.OceanAccessProtectionFund.org and making a donation today.

MLPA Initiative Background:

The Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) is a law, signed by Governor Gray Davis in 1999, designed to create a network of marine protected areas off the California Coast. However, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2004 created the privately-funded MLPA "Initiative" to "implement" the law, effectively eviscerating the MLPA.

The "marine protected areas" created under the MLPA Initiative fail to protect the ocean from oil spills and drilling, water pollution, military testing, wave and wind energy projects, corporate aquaculture and all other uses of the ocean other than fishing and gathering.

The MLPA Blue Ribbon Task Forces that oversaw the implementation of "marine protected areas" included a big oil lobbyist, marina developer, real estate executive and other individuals with numerous conflicts of interest. Catherine Reheis Boyd, the president of the Western States Petroleum Association who is pushing for new oil drilling off the California coast, served as the chair of the MLPA Blue Ribbon Task Force for the South Coast.

The MLPA Initiative operated through a controversial private/public "partnership funded by the shadowy Resources Legacy Fund Foundation. The Schwarzenegger administration, under intense criticism by grassroots environmentalists, fishermen and Tribal members, authorized the implementation of marine protected areas under the initiative through a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the foundation and the California Department of Fish and Game (DFG).

Tribal members, fishermen, grassroots environmentalists, human rights advocates and civil liberties activists have slammed the MLPA Initiative for the violation of numerous state, federal and international laws. Critics charge that the initiative, privatized by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2004, has violated the Bagley-Keene Open Meetings Act, Brown Act, California Administrative Procedures Act, American Indian Religious Freedom Act and UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

MLPA and state officials refused to appoint any tribal scientists to the MLPA Science Advisory Team (SAT), in spite of the fact that the Yurok Tribe alone has a Fisheries Department with over 70 staff members during the peak fishing season, including many scientists. The MLPA Blue Ribbon Task Force also didn't include any tribal representatives until 2010 when one was finally appointed to the panel.