Monday, April 13, 2009

MLPA is a slow go and might be stopped

San Diego Union-Tribune


April 12, 2009

It was noted here recently that the Marine Life Protection Act process as it applies to the South Coast Region that includes San Diego County's coastline was in the third inning.

Since then, stakeholders, scientists and a group of appointees to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's Blue Ribbon Task Force have met. The Fish and Game Commission got together last week in Lodi and discussed all aspects of the MLPA process, most notably the total cost of this statewide network of marine protected areas, including no-fishing zones, called for by the 1999 state legislation that is the MLPA.

So, where are we now?

After this recent commission meeting I'd say we're in the fourth inning in the South Coast process, with an important meeting of the Blue Ribbon Task Force on Tuesday and Wednesday in Dana Point.

But as far as the entire MLPA Initiative, recent testimonies and evidence suggest this game could be called because of a lack of funds and a Legislature-led investigation into improprieties at the highest levels of this falsely presented and misguided legislation.

When a piece of legislation is passed, as the MLPA was in 1999, and the cost for it is listed at $250,000, that's one thing. But when the cost to implement it and operate it grows to $30 million to $40 million a year and likely more, that's evidence of legislation that was hijacked by self-serving environmental groups funded by environmental foundations and so-called partners.

At the commission meeting in Lodi this week, Fish and Game commissioner Jim Kellogg hinted that the commission ought to go to the Legislature and recommend it take another look at the MLPA.

“In the end, this (MLPA) is mandated by the Legislature, a Legislature that never did foresee the financial situation this state is in and the country is in right now,” Kellogg said. “This commission ought to appeal back to them and get them to take a look at what they've done and the burden they're putting on this state with these extra costs at this time. That's one alternative to pursue.”

The commission meeting in Lodi was a microcosm of the ills of the entire MLPA process. It started with the Department of Fish and Game throwing out a range of $9 million to $43 million as the cost for operating the network of marine protected areas with proper enforcement, monitoring and public outreach.

Sonke Mastrup, the DFG's deputy chief, said the $9 million figure was for “nominal” enforcement, monitoring and public outreach.

The key members of this Fish and Game Commission did not let that ridiculous cost range go unchecked. Kellogg was joined by Commissioner Dan Richards in questioning the figures and the potential funding.

Commissioner Michael Sutton, a former Packard Foundation officer who now works for the Packard-funded Monterey Bay Aquarium, believes the money will be, in his words, cobbled together from a variety of partners and programs. Sutton's message was echoed at the commission meeting by his colleagues in the environmental movement, all of whom stepped forward with examples of how partners and the DFG will pay for the marine protected areas.

Fishermen and fishing groups countered with examples of economic hardship the MLPA has caused and will cause.

The other two commissioners – President Cindy Gustafson and Richard Rogers – appear to be playing this down the middle, although both have moments where they seem to recognize the message delivered by fishermen and fishing groups.

“We have some concerns, and this is a horrible economic time for all of us and particularly the small communities in the state,” Gustafson said. “I can tell you right now we don't do enough monitoring of the trout in the Smith River.”

Key state legislators such as Sen. Dean Florez, D-Shafter, have been made aware of the burden these marine protected areas will put on the state's budget. Florez will lead an investigation into the MLPA and alleged conflicts of interests of which Sutton and others have been accused.

On top of that, the Partnership for Sustainable Oceans put the commission on notice that it likely will be sued if it continues on with the MLPA process in the current manner.

If the state legislature doesn't halt or slow down this MLPA process, maybe a judge will.

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