|BY DARRELL TICEHURST|
Published: May 11, 2009
The Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) started off with such noble goals, but the result today is a corrupt mess that is not accomplishing its objectives, and is decimating coastal economies in its wake. The fishery on the Central Coast, the first area to feel the impact of the act, is a shadow of its former self. Most of the charter boats are bankrupt and gone, shut off from the prime fishing grounds because the crazy process ignored the input from the fishing community. Tourism is way down, and a vibrant fishery has lost its infrastructure, probably never to come back. Devastation from this act should have been avoided but it is still continuing in the North Central Coast (centered off San Francisco) and Southern California. The MLPA process has become runaway environmentalism at its worst and now is the time for legislators to step back into the process and put a stop to special interest involvement in a public process.
Originally, legislators intended to set up a network of protected marine habitat areas that would make sense of a hodge-podge of existing Marine Protection Areas that sometimes overlapped in intent and were at cross purposes through the MLPA. Instead, the process has deflated coastal economies where implemented, has allowed environmental extremists to restrict and eliminate fishing without any science to support closures, and has created a bureaucratic monster in monitoring and enforcement that will cost the state $30 million per year, which is about $29.75 million more than the DFG originally estimated for costs.
Why is this happening? What happened to cause this process to go so far off track?
The primary cause of the MLPA malfunction lies in the source of funding for the process. When the legislature refused to allocate funds to implement the act, the Resources Legacy Fund Foundation stepped forward. This is the infamous “public/private funding” partnership that Secretary of Resources Mike Chrisman talks about so fondly. The funding of the RLFF came directly from the Packard Foundation, the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation and the Marisla Foundation, all with a background of extreme environmentalism.
With environmentalist extremists controlling the purse strings, they also began controlling the process. The RLFF and Secretary Chrisman insured that the MLPA, intended as a process to establish a noble habitat related protection network of MPAs, has turned into an obvious effort to stop most fishing even in locations where habitat protection wasn’t a fishing issue.
To understand how the source of funding corrupted the entire process, you must know something about the structure of the MLPA process. The Secretary of Resources and the Department of Fish and Game set up a Blue Ribbon Task Force (BRTF) to make recommendations and hold hearings. The BRTF also has a Scientific Advisory Team (SAT) to make recommendations and hold hearings. Then the BRTF also has a Regional Stakeholder Group (RSG) to hold hearings and make recommendations. Once the BRTF, SAT, and RSG has held enough hearings then the BRTF recommendation is passed along to the department of Fish and Game for analysis where it then goes to the Fish and Game Commission for hearings before the commission acts and the MPAs become law, a process that takes many months. This byzantine blizzard of hearings and interactions served only to offer a cover for the politicos supporting the enviro spin. Everyone wants to protect the resources; politicians want to be associated with saving the resources, but they didn’t want to face the consequences of their actions. The obscurity of the prolonged process gave them a cover. Clearly Governor Schwarzenegger and Secretary Chrisman are two politicians who deserve every criticism they get.
The environmental, anti-fishing spin has lead to the problems we are now facing with the MLPA. Instead of confining themselves to protecting the habitat from pollution and oil leaks, development, and damaging fishing techniques like bottom trawling, the MLPA principles closed down all fishing in many prime spots. This included sport fishing, an activity that hardly impacts the habitat and provides most of the tourism and jobs on the coast. Certainly many areas needed to be protected from those trawlers with their destructive plowing of the bottom with their weighted nets, but to lump all fishing into that category was not only scientifically wrong, but economically and politically stupid.
How can it be that scientists are ignoring the factual data and arriving at unsupported conclusions and excessive closures? For that you can look to the funding source. The RLFF represents the funding sources for the research grants that the scientists on the SAT depend upon for their livelihood. Establish MPAs and the MLPA mandates that they must be monitored and studied to insure that they are accomplishing the goals for which they were established. The very scientists who are on the SAT are the ones seeking this funding, and they are the ones trying to impress the funding organizations with their zeal.
To cite an egregious example, in scoring the effect of an MPA, the SAT said that the score for a proposed MPA needed to be downgraded if salmon fishing was allowed. The stated reason was that trolling for salmon could cause interactions with bottomfish. Essentially they were arguing that trolling on the upper part of the water column could impact fish on the bottom. Just doesn’t happen. So when the SAT was asked to produce a single scientific paper documenting this interaction they cited a so-called “workshop” where recreational salmon fishing was said to impact the bottom. After much effort and investigation the recreational fishing community discovered the individuals who originally testified and had them “clarify” their remarks to the SAT, and they pointed out that the SAT drew the wrong conclusion about what was said at this workshop. Even then it took more hours of testimony and many different scientific testimonies to discredit this fabricated idea. The guy who brought it up, who introduced manufactured “science” and who maintained an agenda that put recreational fishing through this was the chairman of the SAT! This was not an effort to protect habitat, it was a clear agenda to stop all fishing by some extremists, and the truth was just an inconvenience. This is just one example of the lies and red herrings MLPA principles were using to undermine fact that would have lead to a pure process and a successful habitat protection act.
Environmentalists state that fishing has all but eliminated species after species, and, unless we act, fishing will kill too many of the predators and damage the entire food chain and the ecology. These dire predictions might get them attention and more funding, but they don’t apply to California, nor to recreational fishing.
California actually has enlightened and strong fishery management programs. Except for the problems with salmon which can be placed directly with politicos over the continued battle to drain the Sacramento River into the southland, there are only three fish species, all rockfish, that are even designated as over-fished in California water. None are threatened, none endangered. An enlightened and responsible Pacific Fishery Management Council has led efforts that have resulted in restoring these over-fished species. Primarily, this was accomplished by establishing the largest MPA in the world: over 10,000 square miles are off limits to fishing to insure that all three species are protected and recovering. With a perfectly capable PFMC in place, it makes no sense that the MLPA principles should have fishing, or banning fishing, as their first priority. Misinformation and environmental zeal are trying to manage a fishing resource, doing it wrong, and causing great harm to our coastal communities and the recreational fishing industry.
The MLPA principles recognized that MPAs are by their very nature very restrictive, and the law specifies that they will need to be monitored and studied to insure that they continue to achieve the goals for which they were set up. That means that the rules need to be enforced and that costs money as well. Initially the DF&G said that they thought that this effort would cost them about $250,000 per year in additional funding. Now, with a runaway process, they are estimating more than $30 million per year! The state is broke, so where is the money going to come from? The RLFF, who so graciously offered to fund the establishment of MPAs have said they will not fund the implementation of the process. They have released a monster and the state cannot find the money to implement it.
The solution to solving this nightmarish problem lies in the legislature. They created this act, and now that it is out of control they need to step back in. Senator Florez, the Senate Majority Leader, has said his oversight committee will hold hearings to ferret out the causes that created the problems with the MLPA and why it isn’t being implemented the way the legislators intended. Why is it out of control? Just how badly has the funding tainted the process? How can we repair some of the damage that has been done on the Central Coast? How can we prevent runaway environmentalism while still protecting key habitat? These are just some of the questions his committee needs to ask. To encourage Senator Florez send him an email and tell him that the hearings really are necessary (firstname.lastname@example.org).
As originally stated, the MLPA had many fishermen believing the process was going to protect our fishing areas and insure a healthy and nurturing coastline. Instead it has been turned into an attack on recreational fishing, a fund raising propaganda tool for some enviro organizations, and a continuing employment opportunity for some environmentalists. The implementation needs to be halted and the devastation it has caused has to be fixed, and the crazy alphabet soup of hearings and the funding have to be reexamined and restructured.