2011-03-23 "Marine Protected Areas – Or Paper Reserves?" by Dan Bacher
Warner Chabot, in his article in the California Progress Report on March 16, affirms that we have “a responsibility to ensure” that the ocean “is managed sustainably and responsibly.”
Just about everybody can agree that we need to manage the ocean “sustainably and responsibly.” Where the disagreement comes is the type and scope of protection that will be provided. The essential problem is that the MLPA Initiative doesn't provide the comprehensive, holistic protection that is now needed to preserve marine ecosystems.
Chabot, the CEO of the California League of Conservation Voters, and other MLPA Initiative proponents falsely portray representatives of fishing groups and other critics of the process as “opponents of ocean protection” and proponents of “overfishing."
Nothing could be further from the truth. Recreational fishing groups that I have worked with led the charge to restrict gillnetting, trammel netting, longlining and other fishing methods along the coast to protect rockfish, halibut and other species, as well as working with Tribes, environmentalists and commercial fishermen to restore salmon and Delta fish populations.
In fact, the Pacific Fishery Management Council (PFMC), including federal and state officials, Indian Tribal representatives and recreational and commercial group representatives, voted over a decade ago to create one of the largest marine protected areas in the world stretching the entire length of the continental shelf of California from Oregon to Mexico. This giant marine protected area (MPA), the Rockfish Conservation Zone, was designed to rebuild deep water rockfish stocks, yet its existence been hasn't ever been factored into the MLPA process.
The Council has also imposed very strict regulations on fishing seasons, bag limits and others for rockfish and other species.
A groundbreaking study published in the July 31, 2009 issue of Science magazine revealed that the California Current ecosystem has the lowest fishery exploitation rate of any place in the world examined by co-authors Ray Hilborn and Boris Worm and 19 other scientists.
“The drastic reductions in harvest in California have been designed to rebuild the overexploited rockfish stocks,” said Hilborn. “At present the community of groundfish is now at about 60% of its unfished biomass, far above the 30-40% level target for maximum sustained yield.”
Dr. Hilborn, a professor at the School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences at the University of Washington, added, “Much of the motivation for the MLPA was concern about the state of the groundfish stocks - there is clear evidence that these can be rebuilt without MPAs resulting from the MLPA that have only recently begun to be implemented.”
Comprehensive Protection Is Needed -
While problems with overfishing have been largely addressed due to the impositions of strict regulations and the creation of the Rockfish Conservation Zone, California ocean and bay waters are beset with an array of problems – water pollution, particularly from unregulated agricultural users and storm runoff, water diversions from coastal and Central Valley rivers, and water exports out of the Delta to southern California and corporate agribusiness.
The initiative's "marine protected areas" don't protect the ocean waters from any of these problems, as well as threats posed by oil spills and drilling, wave energy projects, corporate aquaculture, coastal development, habitat destruction and other human impacts other than fishing and gathering. That's bad public policy, especially when oil industry, marina development and real estate interests with numerous conflicts of interest are on the panels overseeing the implementation of the law.
The first two goals of the MLPA mandate that we “protect the natural diversity and abundance of marine life, and the structure, function, and integrity of marine ecosystems” and “help sustain, conserve, and protect marine life populations, including those of economic value, and rebuild those that are depleted.”
The MLPA Initiative is at odds with the letter and intent of the actual Marine Life Protection Act, which was designed to provide comprehensive protection to “help sustain, conserve, and protect marine life populations,” not the questionable “protection” provided under the implementation of the law under Schwarzenegger.
For example, environmental leader Robert Ovetz was very critical of how the North Central Coast marine protected areas failed to include strong protections for fish, birds, sea mammals and other marine life from oil tankers entering San Francisco Bay (http://www.californiaprogressreport.com/site/?q=node/2692.)
“The Cosco Busan tragedy has yet to teach many of those planning the new MPA network a lesson,” said Ovetz, in April 2008, as the North Central MLPA process was underway. “How well will these crown jewels of our new MPA network be protected from the 732 potential Exxon Valdez oil tankers entering the Bay every year with an estimated 400 million gallons of fuel in their holds?”
MPAs: Marine Poaching Areas -
In addition to failing to comprehensively protect fish and other species, there is still no solution in sight for enforcing the new marine protected areas, making these zones into virtual “paper” marine reserves. This is a global problem, as David McGuire, currently with a team of Costa Rican biologists from the environmental organization Pretoma on the vessel Sirneuse to film and tag turtles and sharks at Cocos Island, points out (topics.npr.org/article/01uJ5Xyay2d2y?q).
“The problem in any case is observance and enforcement,” he said. “There have been success in countries with resources to enforce and convict violators, but many of the areas on the global map are in name only – ‘paper parks.’ Boats fish freely in world heritage sites and areas designated protected by governments. I am writing this from one such area outside Cocos Island approximately 400 miles off the coast of Costa Rica.”
Unfortunately, California is one such area where the government, in its greatest economic crisis ever, simply doesn’t have the funds to enforce new MPAs. The California Game Wardens Association has opposed the creation of any new marine protected areas along the coast until the state acquires the necessary funds to enforce them.
In an an excellent opinion piece in the Sacramento Bee on January 31, 2010 Jerry Karnow, Legislative Liason for the California Fish and Game Wardens Association, criticized the MLPA process for proceeding forward at a time when California has the "lowest ratio of wardens to population of any state or province in North America (http://www.sacbee.com/opinion/story/2500939.html).
"It is impossible for the warden force to effectively enforce existing regulations, much less new regulations that the Fish and Game Commission approves over our objections," says Karnow. "Many of the regulations approved by the commission will not protect the natural resources of California. They will serve only one purpose; they will stretch the warden force ever thinner, which will eventually result in another warden's on-duty injury or death."
"While it seeks to design Marine Protected Areas, my warden colleagues have a different meaning for 'MPA' – we call them Marine Poaching Areas," says Karnow. "Since the protection act closes productive fishing areas, poachers will know where to rape our resources, and they will know that there is unlikely to be any law enforcement presence or legal anglers present to turn in poachers."
Shouldn’t initiative proponents listen to the advice of California’s game wardens, since they’re the ones charged with enforcing the MLPA?
Initiative Advocates Refuse to Address Flaws -
MLPA Initiative advocates constantly refuse to address the questions that myself and others have posed regarding the many flaws in the MLPA process, led by failure of the initiative to provide comprehensive marine protection. They pretend these flaws don't exist, preferring to repeat generic statements that the MLPA process is "open, transparent and inclusive" when 25 pages of documents of secret, illegal meetings and hour after hour of testimony of fishermen, Tribal members and grassroots environmentalists prove that it isn't.
When will MLPA Initiative backers finally show some courage to admit that there are serious flaws in the process?
When will they face up to the fact that Schwarzenegger’s appointment of a big oil lobbyist to be chair of the South Coast Task Force and to serve on the North Coast and North Central Coast panels was wrong?
When will they acknowledge that refusing to appoint tribal scientists to the Science Advisory Team and not appointing any tribal representatives to the MLPA Blue Ribbon Task Force until 2010 Coast is really bad policy?
Frankie Joe Myers, Yurok Tribe member and Coastal Justice Coalition activist, exposed the refusal to incorporate tribal science that underlies the "science" of the MLPA process during a direct action protest by a coalition of 50-plus tribes and their allies in Fort Bragg, California, on July 21, 2010.
“The whole process is inherently flawed by institutionalized racism," Myers said. "It doesn’t recognize tribes as political entities, or tribal biologists as legitimate scientists.”
Hopefully, Governor Jerry Brown and Natural Resources Secretary John Laird will show some courage, break with Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's abysmal environmental ocean policies and instead work to implement comprehensive policies along the California coast that protect the marine ecosystem from water pollution, water diversions, oil spills, corporate aquaculture, military testing, wave energy projects and other human impacts, rather than just penalizing fishermen and gatherers.
Ten Big Questions about the MLPA
I have challenge MLPA advocates to answer the 10 big questions that proponents of the controversial, privately funded process refuse to answer. None have responded to these questions to date.
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 Forces to remove fishermen, Tribal gatherers 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? How can you say that "science" guided the process when no Tribal scientists have been appointed to the Science Advisory Team since the process was privatized in 2004?
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. These also include studies and data compiled by Yurok Tribe biologists and lawyers that differ with the MLPA's pre-ordained conclusions.
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? This doesn't sound to me like an "open, transparent and inclusive" process, as you and others have constantly claimed the MLPA process is.
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?