Monday, May 18, 2009

Jim Kellogg Asks Commission to Put MLPA Process on Hold

by Dan Bacher

As the California Fish and Game Commission was hearing public testimony in Sacramento from anglers, environmentalists and scientists about Marine Protected Area (MPA) alternatives, Commission Member Jim Kellogg received word from the Governor’s office that Schwarzenegger was going to lay off 5,000 more state workers because of the state’s unprecedented budget crisis.

After the public comment period at Thursday's meeting concluded, Kellogg asked the Commission to request the State Legislature to put Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s fast track Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) process on hold in light of the economic crisis.

“We should appeal back to the Legislature to put the whole process on hold until the state gets back on its feet,” said Kellogg. “This would allow us time to see if the existing MPAs are working.”

Fellow Commissioner Richard Rogers objected that putting the process on hold would “invalidate” the thousands and thousands of hours of work that stakeholders and government officials have put into the process.

However, Kellogg responded that it was “irresponsible” to proceed with imposing new Marine Protected Areas when the Department of Fish and Game doesn’t have staff to enforce and manage its existing MPAs and fish and game laws.

“We are in the process of watching the state’s programs and services being gutted,” said Kellogg. “Where are we going to get the manpower for these MPAs? It is irresponsible to impose new costs on the state when we don’t have the funds for our existing programs.”

California has the worst game wardens per capita ratio of any state or Canadian province – only 192 in the field. This has attracted organized crime to poaching and contributed to a $100 million-plus a year black market in wildlife trafficking that has “dire consequences for salmon, striped bass, sturgeon, deer, abalone and many other species,” according to James and Andrew Swan’s documentary, “"Endangered Species: California Fish and Game Wardens.”

Earlier in the meeting Kellogg, the only remaining Davis administration appointee and a union leader, addressed the potentially devastating economic consequences of expanded MPAs on sustainable recreational anglers, commercial fishermen and seaweed harvesters already kicked off the water by draconian area closures, dramatically shortened fishing seasons and the banning of salmon fishing for the second year in a row.

In a lively discussion, other Commission members disagreed with Kellogg that a hold should be put on the MLPA Process. However, Kellogg then asked the Commission to send a letter to the Governor asking them how they were supposed to proceed with the process in light of the state’s unprecedented budget deficit. This they all agreed to.

“It is a real breakthrough that the Commission is planning to ask the Governor if the MLPA Process is possible with the available funding,” commented Jim Martin, West Coast Regional Director of the Recreational Fishing Alliance.

The Commission also agreed to support two amendments to the existing North Central Coast MLPA alternatives requested by sportfishing and diving groups.

During the public testimony, about 100 people testified in support different MPLA proposals.

About 60 percent of the public, including grass roots environmentalists, recreational fishermen, commercial fishermen and scientists, pleaded with the commission to adopt 2XA. Representatives of a diverse array of fishing and diving groups, including Coastside Fishing Club, the Recreational Fishing Alliance, Golden Gate Fisherman’s Association, and American Sportfishing Association spoke in support of this proposal. They argued that Proposal 2XA places MPAs in locations with a high level of conservation while minimizing the economic impact on local communities and still allowing anglers maximum access to fishing.

“2XA is the obvious choice,” said Dan Wohlford, science director of the Coastside Fishing Club and Pacific Fishery Management Council (PFMC) member. “It achieves a higher level of protection than other proposal, including the IPA (Integrated Preferred Proposal). It also has the least socioeconomic impact of any other proposal, including the IPA.”

Most of the other speakers argued for the Integrated Preferred Alternative (IPA), a more restrictive proposal not supported by fishing groups. Representatives of environmental NGOs, including the Ocean Conservancy, Natural Resources Defense Council, Save Our Shores and the Baykeeper, tried to convince the Commission to adopt this proposal, arguing that it would provide better protection for fish populations while allowing fishing and diving access.

“The IPA represents a good faith compromise. The support for this proposal runs board and deep," said Karen Garrison of the Natural Resources Defense Council, who praised the North Coast MLPA Process, and noted that the Commission had received over 10,000 letters in support of the IPA.

Conflict of Interest Charges Loom Over MLPA Process.

As the Fish and Game Commission was listening to testimony over which testimony to adopt, prominent politicians, including Senator Majority Leader Dean Florez (D-Fores) and Northern Coast Assemblyman Wes Chesbro (D-Arcata), are challenging the legitimacy of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s fast track MLPA Process in light of “mission creep” and conflict of interest charges.

Florez said he will conduct a Senate Oversight Hearing this year about conflict of interest and “mission creep” in the MLPA process. No time has been set for this hearing yet.

Flores said that he and other Senators plan to ask some “very tough” questions of Resources Secretary Mike Chrisman and Mike Sutton, Fish and Game Commission member, about MLPA process. These questions include why the MLPA has been expanded from a $250,000 process to a $35 million fiasco that is threatening the economy and fisheries on the North Central Coast.

Potential conflicts of interest that need to be investigated include:

• the role of The Resource Legacy Foundation, a private organization, in funding the MLPA process.

• the role of Michael Sutton, a Schwarzenegger-appointed member of the Fish and Game Commission. Sutton is employed by the Packard Foundation, which funds the Resource Legacy Foundation, the very organization that is funding the MLPA Process. Isn’t it a potential conflict of interest for a Commission Member to be making decisions that could benefit his employer? The Central Coast Fisheries Conservation Coalition has filed a complaint to the California Fair Political Practices Commission over this conflict of interest.

• The role of Catherine Reheis-Boyd, CEO and Chief of Staff for the Western States Petroleum Association, a member of the five-member MLPA Blue Ribbon Task Force. John Lewallen, longtime North Coast environmentalist and seaweed harvester, asks, "Is it coincidence that the Point Arena Basin offshore from Point Arena is the area of highest oil industry interest in Northern California, and the only tract here now open to Minerals Management Service offshore oil leasing process?"

• The role that Gordon Smith, the former President and CEO of the Pacific Gas and Electric Company, plays on the Resource Legacy Foundation Board. Does he have a vested interest in removing from North Central Coast waters the most vocal opponents of PG&E's wave energy schemes - fishermen and seaweed harvesters?

Could it be that Schwarzenegger’s MLPA process represents an attempt to kick the strongest defenders of our fisheries and the environment - sustainable recreational and commercial fishermen and seaweed harvesters - off the ocean to pave the way for offshore oil drilling, wave energy projects and corporate aquaculture?

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