Fishers, seaweed harvesters and divers, side-by-side with local restaurateurs and retailers, are united against research they suspect is questionable, that's being undertaken to implement the state's 1999 Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative.
Many of the same people who attended a meeting in Fort Bragg last Tuesday were also at a day-long event in Point Arena on June 13; they're asking the same questions and saying the same things.
Livelihoods — jobs and economic well-being— of many individuals, families, small businesses and communities may be threatened by what is determined from research now being conducted for the "Fishery Data Collection and Analysis Project" on the North Coast by Ecotrust.
Ecotrust is a nonprofit conservation organization, located in Portland, Ore, retained under contract to conduct — through collection, compilation and analyses of information from commercial, passenger fishing vessels and recreational fisheries — socioeconomic research from Point Arena to the Oregon Border for MLPA.
Fishers and ancillary citizens are dubious about the process from start to finish, including the lack of adequate noticing of the Fort Bragg meeting.
Ecotrust representatives were the targets of universal hostility and welcomed with, "You're arriving here with zero political support."
"You're not helping anyone except weasels and weasel worshippers."
One man said, "Don't tell us it's all going to be OK," just before he stormed out of the meeting room at the Harbor Lite Lodge.
And, "This town will not survive if this goes through. The town will dry up."
Ecotrust Executive Director Ken Wiseman said in his meeting introduction, "There's a lot of misinformation out there. I know we have an unpopular law with a lot of people."
Wiseman opened by stating their aim is to meet the goals of the act "without [creating] economic impact."
Later, he said, "Ecotrust is about knowing where [there are] economic impacts and minimizing them as much as possible. We're trying to facilitate a process that includes locals."
Later yet, Wiseman reported they've already spent $1.3 million on the process to this point and they "are not required to look at the economic impact."
Most remained civilly unconvinced. Participants said the system is "terribly flawed," there are "mistakes" with the process, there are missed habitats, possible favoritism, and, "it's an inadequate study at the very least."
These were serious concerns and credible arguments made that Ecotrust was in no position to address, but one fact was validated by their staff — the study results will be an incomplete picture.
It's all about the money.
Ecotrust defended their process and admitted there are limitations to their study. Staff confirmed that a complete study would cost $10 million. The MLPA Blue Ribbon Task Force determined the level of study to be performed by Ecotrust by what it would invest in it.
What will this study include?
"What we're doing is not complete, but what we can afford. [It's] based on the budget and timeframe we have," they told the group.
Meanwhile, California's budget, that may reduce 80 percent of the State Parks system, would need to find $34 million a year to monitor and enforce the new restrictions that include miles of State Parks' oceanfront properties.
The next question raised was, "Why aren't we waiting for enough money to do it right?"
The answer? The law doesn't require any more than this.
The study, they maintained in their handouts, is "a unique opportunity to bring fishermen's knowledge directly to bear on the marine planning process. By asking fishermen to share their knowledge of their fishing grounds and giving them a forum in which to express their values, the project engages stakeholders.
"Fishermen have every incentive to tell the truth; any strategic reporting or misrepresenting the actual fishing grounds has the potential to do more harm than good," states Ecotrust in its project overview."
The interview process is scheduled to take place this summer and fall, including interviews along the Northern California coast with about 160 commercial fishers, 200 recreational and 30 charter boat owner/operators.
Recreational fishers to be surveyed include private boat anglers, kayak anglers and divers. The focus of data collection is on salmon, Dungeness crab, rockfish, California and Pacific halibut, leopard shark, spiny dogfish, brown smoothhound, sevengill shark and Humboldt squid. Abalone and urchin for dive only.
The commercial fishing study is dedicated to Dungeness grab (trap), salmon (troll), nearshore fishing (hook and line) urchin (dive) sablefish (longline) hagfish (trap), shrimp (trap), California halibut (hook and line), smelt (brail/dip net), and herring (gillnet).
In other words, the study profiles who is fishing and where they fish and creates detailed maps of local fishing grounds.
Marine Conservation Areas that already exist off Mendocino County's coast are MacKerricher, Point Cabrillo, Russian Gulch, Van Damme, Manchester and Arena Rock. These went into effect in September 2007.
Fishers can participate in the interview process online at www.ecotrust.org/mlpa/interviewsignup beginning in July.
That's a good thing for Ecotrust because by the time they get established here many of the fishers will have left for the season and won't be available for in-person interviews.
The Marine Life Protection Act, passed by the California State Legislature in 1999, requires California to reevaluate all existing marine protected areas (MPAs) and potentially design new ones into a Marine Life Protection Program. Statewide implementation is planned by 2011.
The state was divided into five regions. This area is the "North Coast" region. The Fish & Game Commission was directed to adopt a system of MPAs are defined by California Public Resources Code.
A marine protected area is designated by law to protect or conserve marine life and habitat. There are three different MPA designations: A state marine reserve (SMR) prohibits all extractive activities, including fishing and kelp harvesting; a state marine park (SMP) prohibits all commercial activities and potentially some recreational activities; state marine conservation areas may limit recreational and/or commercial activities.
For more information, go to http://www.dfg.ca.gov/mlpa/.
Last week's front page article, "Point Arena Upwelling: Citizens Roast the Marine Life Protection Act "Process" by John and Barbara Stephens-Lewallen told the Point Arena story.
The Marine Reserves and Protected Areas (MRPA) are scheduled to be adopted by the California State Fish & Game Commission — which holds the decision-making authority — in August.
MLPA requires public input. Open houses are scheduled to introduce citizens to the initiative and the projects, take questions and solicit input.
There will be an open house at Dana Gray Elementary School, 1197 Chestnut, St., Fort Bragg, on Tuesday, July 21, from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m.