Friday, August 14, 2009

Critics decry fast timeline for MLPA

Insufficient notice, opponents claim

The Marine Life Protection Act Initiative is stirring up the waters of the North Coast.

While the possibility of more fishing restrictions is enough to raise interest, the most recent controversy centers around the formation of a Science Advisory Team (SAT).

Critics of the MLPA process claim locals were given too little warning about an upcoming deadline for nominations to the SAT. That deadline is this Friday, Aug. 14.

“We thought we would have input into the SAT process,” said local fishermen Kenyon Hensel, who has been closely following the MLPA process. “Then they give us a week to make nominations? This is their (MLPA Initiative officials’) way of ensuring that there is no true local participation. They have known for the last three years that this process was going to occur.”

Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) are being established all along California’s coastline in an effort to protect ocean resources.

The North Coast is the fourth of five regions to undergo the process, and one element is forming a regional stakeholders group and an SAT.

“The regional stakeholder group actually draws the lines on the map,” said MLPA Initiative Program Manager Melissa Miller-Henson. “The Science Advisory Team helps provide the guidelines, like how big to make the protected areas, or what habitats need to be included.”

She said the 25-day window for nominations isn’t any shorter on the North Coast than for the last three regions where the process has been completed.

“We have been telling folks informally since May,” said Miller-Henson.

While MLPA representatives say that they began sending out formal letters 25 days ago, that was only to people on their list server.

Miller-Henson said that people who didn’t receive a formal letter asking for nominations can still call the MLPA Initiative office at (916) 654-1885.

“One of our office staff will either read it to them over the phone or get them a copy in a timely fashion,” Miller-Henson said.

There are three types of MPAs that could be established on the North Coast. From least restrictive to most, they include marine conservation areas, marine parks, and marine reserves (which would be no-take areas).

Once the stakeholder group and the Science Advisor Team are formed, their members can begin the process of forming a proposal, which could start sometime next year.

According to Miller-Henson, the stakeholder group could choose to ignore the SAT’s guidelines, but would have to provide a clear rationale to both the Blue Ribbon Task Force, in charge of reviewing the proposal, and the Fish and Game Commission that ultimately approves it.

Critics of the MLPA process fear the stakeholders group and the SAT will be loaded up with members who lean toward more restrictions on fishing.

“This thinly veiled effort to stack the deck in the state’s favor is more of the same heavy-handed treatment true stewards of the ocean are objecting to so strenuously,” states a press release by Judith Vidaver, chair of the Ocean Protection Coalition, a Mendocino non-profit organization, states.

“If the state is truly interested in facilitating public participation in the MLPA process, adequate outreach and time for input would be the minimum the public could expect.”

Miller-Henson said the MLPA Initiative is committed to choosing SAT members whose sole concern is truly understanding the science of the particular region.

“We distribute the formal letter seeking nominations to the nearly 3,000 individuals and organizations on our list server,” Miller-Henson said.

The server includes both individuals and agencies and organizations like Humboldt State University, North Coast Harbors, the Tribes and the Pacific Fisheries Management Council.

“Ultimately anyone can nominate somebody to the Science Advisor Team,” Miller-Henson said. “But a nomination that doesn’t meet the requirements outlined in the formal letter, wouldn’t be considered.”

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