By Ed Zieralski
May 29, 2009
Fishing interests involved in the Marine Life Protection Act process and those following it closely were outraged this week by a decision made by those running the show.
And they all had every right to be outraged and feel betrayed.
As the Marine Life Protection Act, which already has closed key fishing areas along the Central Coast, moves into its next phase here in the South Coast, here's where the process is:
It started on the Central Coast, and that's done, with 85 square miles of the total Central Coast closed, including 40 percent of the best sportfishing areas. Actually, this process of closing waters to fishing began with the Channel Islands in 2002 when 175 square miles of state waters around the Channel Islands were closed. It resulted in an estimated $100 million annual loss to the local economy there. The North Central Coast closures still must be voted on by the Fish and Game Commission. That's expected to happen in August. While the least intrusive and least costly (in terms of economic hardship to fishermen and the community) set of closures in the 2XA proposal make the most sense, the Blue Ribbon Task Force (BRTF), and likely a majority of the Fish and Game Commission, are backing the Task Force's IPA, or "integrated preferred alternative." It's no surprise to anyone that the preservationist-environmentalist community is all-in on that proposal. There's not a huge difference in the two, but it's significant to the fishermen who will be impacted by it. The 2XA proposal calls for 137.1 square miles of marine protected areas, or 18 percent. The Integrated Preferred Alternative calls for 20.1 percent, or 153.4 square miles.
The South Coast part of the MLPA process, the one that covers PointConception to the Mexican Border, is heating up thanks to a crawfish move by the Marine Protection Act Initiative team earlier this week.
I'm calling it a crawfish move because how else to describe the Initiative staff, or I-Team, as it's called, backsliding on its decision to allow the least popular, most polarizing proposal for marine protected areas to proceed to the next round after it was voted off the island?
Without getting too technical, the South Coast Regional Stakeholders Group (SCRSG) was instructed that the list of proposals for marine protected areas had to be "winnowed" in order to get to six.
As we all know, winnow means to separate the chaff from the grain, get rid of or eliminate errors in logic, separate the good from the bad, sift, select the more desirable, all that.
Only six proposals would go forward, the stakeholders were told. Two proposals were formed by a convergence of opposing sides in two of the subgroups (Opal and Topaz) from the main stakeholder group.
So, with those two proposals already set to move forward for scientific analysis and Blue Ribbon Task Force evaluation, the stakeholders were asked to choose four from the five proposals … two proposed by the third subgroup of the stakeholder group and three external proposals from outside interests.
This is where it all turns ugly.
Two of the three external proposals came from fishing groups. External A came from the Fishermen's Information Committee-Fisherman's Information Network (FIC-FIN).
External B was put forth by a fishing organization. External C was proposed by the Santa Barbara Channelkeepers and Santa Monica Baykeepers.
These are estimated figures, but clearly the External C Proposal is the most radical of all the proposals. It riled many of the stakeholders when it was introduced in Long Beach. It has polarized the group ever since.
External C calls for 47 marine protected areas, or 33 percent of the Southern California coastline put in marine protected areas.
External A, the one proposed by FIC-FIN, calls for 40 marine protected areas or just just under 12 percent in marine protected areas.
A straw vote tally was taken.
All 64 South Coast Regional Stakeholder Group members participated in the voting. Opal and Topaz (the two subgroups of the stakeholder group) reached a unified proposal and will automatically move forward for evaluation.
Lapis 1 proposal (representing the preservationists in this subgroup) got 63 votes. Lapis 2 proposal (from the fishing interests in this subgroup) got 61 votes. External A, proposed by the Fishermen's Information Network, was the only proposal to earn a unanimous vote of 64 in favor of advancing. That's 100 percent of the group voting for this proposal.
It couldn't have gone any better for fishing interests.
External B only earned 39 votes.
And last, and certainly least, External C was the worst of the batch, as voted by the stakeholders, earning just 29 votes.
It couldn't have gone any worse for the preservationist-environmental groups. Per the Šwinnowing‰ process ordered by the I-Team, Proposal C, this chaff, was supposed to be separated from the grain. Thrown out. Culled. Filletted.
Instead, by a judgment still unexplained, it lives and now must be analyzed and evaluated like the hard-fought compromised proposals hammered out by the stakeholders.
Ken Wiseman, the executive director for the I-Team, sent the stakeholders a mea culpa explaining why seven proposals will go forward instead of six. He has not returned an email request from the San Diego Union-Tribune to explain why. But the Union-Tribune obtained a copy of his email to the stakeholders. "We have decided that all seven proposals will move forward for analysis and review as part of the Round 2 evaluation process," Wiseman said in his email to all the stakeholders. "This decision was made in the interest of maintaining the maximum confidence in an open and inclusive process, maximizing the amount of information available from the various evaluations, and acknowledging that with the significant stratification of the votes, acting on the vote would have led to the elimination of two draft proposals.
"Moving forward with all seven draft proposals is contrary to what staff indicated would be the result of the vote," Wiseman added. "However, an important goal of the MLPA Initiative is to ensure that all voices in the process are heard and given consideration; doing so both respects the intent of the MLPA and works toward the best cross-interest solution for all Californians. We believe moving all seven draft proposals forward for analysis will help achieve this goal."
Those involved in the process and those watching it closely are riled up about this, and they should be.
"External C is the most radical and least considerate of all the proposals," said Louie Zimm, a member of the Fishermen's Information Network. "The vote was very clear, unanimous. But it's also clear that Ken Wiseman is beholding to the Resources Legacy Fund Foundation that is funding this process. It's clear he felt his very livelihood is threatened by this. It's clear they have to keep in consideration this extremist proposal for marine protected areas to please those funding the process."
Zimm also fired off an email to Wiseman and Don Benninghoven, chairman of the Blue Ribbon Task Force, expressing that he was gratified that External Proposal A, which he helped fashion, was a unanimous choice of the stakeholder group, but how disappointed he was in the I-Team's decision to include External Proposal C in the process after it received the least amount of votes.
"External Proposal C received only 29 votes, less than half of the RSG votes," Zimm told Benninghoven and Wiseman. "This proposal appears to be a somewhat one-sided and myopic proposal. From the onset, with its original iteration, Proposal C has been unrealistic and callous. The authors have not attempted to reach out to opposing interests for compromise.
"I was a steady observer of the Topaz gem group," Zimm continued. "That proposal was the product of heart-felt soul-searching and wrenching compromise. Now that proposal will be put on an equal footing with the unsupported and uncompromising External C proposal. This must certainly be a terrible disappointment to the hard-working members of both Opal and Topaz gem groups who took the I-team's and the BRTF's direction to heart to find compromise. I am deeply concerned that this decision will harden hearts and promote division in the SCRSG.
"As you may know, I have stuck to my post and to my commitment to the MLPA process through considerable distraction as my mother lay on her death bed. I did this, believing that she would have wanted me to do so, as she was a dedicated biologist that loved our California Coast. Now I am faced with the regret that all of my and my colleagues work was in vain, due to this last minute decision that threw out, on an apparent whim, the I-Team and the BRTF's former direction.
"I hope that you and the BRTF will answer my concerns and inform me why I should continue my efforts on behalf of the Marine Life Protection Act.
"With respect, I submit this as a request to explain what appears to be a breach in good faith by the 'powers that be' and to request why I should continue to expect fair and equal treatment by the Blue Ribbon Task Force and the I-Team.
"Respectfully yours, Captain Louie Zimm, Scripps Institution of Oceanography (retired)."
Zimm is not alone on this. Members of the regional stakeholders group I contacted question Wiseman's leadership and say they will never trust him again on any matters.
The entire MLPA process could be investigated by the state Senate if Sen. Dean Florez (D-Shafter) has his way, and we're still waiting for that to get started. At least two Fish and Game Commissioners, Dan Richards and Jim Kellogg, want Gov. Schwarzenegger to halt this process until the state gets well financially. Considering the fact the Governor is about to close state parks, sell places like the Del Mar Fairgrounds, cut state employee pay even more, shutting down this star-crossed process seems like it would be an easy decision. But that's how entrenched the preservationist-environmentalists are in our state government.
In the meantime, the Fair Political Practices Board continues its official investigation into charges of conflict of interest against Michael Sutton of the Fish and Game Commission.
Roman Porter, the executive director of the Fair Political Practices Commission, confirmed this week that the investigation of Sutton's ties continues. Sutton was sent a letter from the FPPC on May 19 informing him that he is being investigated for allegations that his ties to the Packard Foundation, which funds the MLPA process and the Monterey Aquarium where he's an officer, have influenced his votes on the Fish and Game Commission regarding marine protected areas.
Porter said there is no time limit on the investigation and he could not speculate how long the investigation will take.
Will fishing groups seek a court injunction against Sutton to prevent him from voting on the MLPA process until the FPPC investigation is complete? And if Sutton is found to have conflicts of interest and is fined, will his previous votes as a commissioner regarding the MLPA process and marine protected areas be ruled invalid and rolled back? What a mess that could turn out to be. I'm told lawyers for fishing groups are standing by on this.
Considering this latest crawfish move by Wiseman and the I-Team, the entire bunch needs to answer why it, as one stakeholder told me, moved the goal posts on the stakeholders after they thought they kicked a winning field goal and booted out the worst proposal of all, External Proposal C, from the MLPA process.
Those are the words stakeholders are using today about Wiseman and his I-team. They moved the goal posts. They're playing dirty pool. They changed the rules. They are not to be trusted.
Nice process. Nice I-Team leadership.