Citizens of Humboldt County should take note of the California Fish and Game Commission's Aug. 5 action designating Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) for the North Central Coast Region (NCC) immediately south of us. The decision likely foreshadows the fate of the North Coast Region, including the Humboldt County coast, unless we organize, educate ourselves and take action on a number of fronts.
President Cindy Gustafson removed herself from the Fish and Game Commission only days before the vote on the NCC MPAs. Though she mentioned a conflict of interest over her Truckee agency job, her exit appeared to be pure political interference. The eleventh hour removal of such appointees is typically precipitated by non-support on a critical issue; in this case the NCC “Integrated Preferred Alternative” supported by Governor Schwarzenegger and the private foundation backers of the MLPA. (For more see www.cafisheriescoalition.org/).
Within hours of Gustafson's hurried departure, the governor appointed Southern California Republican Don Benninghoven, chair of the MLPA Initiative's Blue Ribbon Task Force (BRTF). The task force had previously chosen the alternative over the locally crafted, economically acceptable proposal. Benninghoven then voted with the other two Schwarzenegger plan supporters on the five-person commission.
The precedents set by MPA designations in southern Mendocino County and northern Sonoma should alarm us and spur us to action. It would end Pomo Indian foraging rights for abalone near Stewarts Point, cutting off a tradition spanning hundreds of generations. The Point Arena Pier, funded with a $10 million federal grant, will likely go out of business because both Saunders and Lighthouse reefs to its north and south will be shut, over local objections. A $300,000 a year seaweed business that harvests by hand by wading in Sea Lion Cove will end. The Regional Stakeholders Group's preferred alternative 2XA would have kept open Sea Lion Cove and environs for Pomo gathering, and allowed fishing at Saunders Reef but shut Lighthouse Reef for conservation.
The BRTF is not a product of the MLPA passed by the Legislature but instead was part of a deal made by the State Resources Agency as part of securing Packard Foundation funds to implement the MLPA initiative. The BRTF is set up as insurance for the initiative's political outcomes and usurps lawful powers of the Fish and Game Commission. The five governor-appointed BRTF members include an oil industry lobbyist, a marina developer and representatives of the private foundations paying for the initiative. North Coast residents should object to the BRTF remaining in the decision-making loop for our area.
On July 15, Sen. Pat Wiggins wrote the Fish and Game Commission that “it is important that no family lose their livelihood from the implementation of North Central MPAs.” With the proposed displacement of Pomo Indians and seaweed harvesters and the potential crippling blow to the town Point Arena, it is time we asked the senator to follow up and fight for us, so that the same fate does not befall us. She is conflicted because she has hundreds of letters from the southern end of her district supporting the NCC MPA designation, many driven by public relations campaigns funded by Packard.
Senator Wiggins needs to hear from her real North Coast constituents and then call a hearing on the MLPA process by her Joint Committee on Fisheries and Aquaculture. There is a history of general support for the MLPA concept from North Coast legislators, including Assemblyman Wesley Chesbro when he was our senator. We all support the principles embodied in the act, but the current MLPA has strayed significantly from the Legislature's original intent and that should be the subject of the committee hearing.
Meanwhile, the MLPA process has started here and we are responding. North Coast governments, including Tribes, are organizing through a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) with the Humboldt Bay Harbor, Recreation and Conservation District so that we can all act together. Our regional MPA Work Group will now have official membership from these entities so we can collectively craft our scientific and political response. The MPA Work Group and members made sure that qualified local scientists were nominated by an Aug. 14 deadline to sit on the NC Science Advisory Team (SAT). We have also formed a sub-committee to independently set standards for science-based marine conservation planning in our area. When we get consensus among local scientists, our government leaders will sit down with MLPAI leadership and present a plan that works for our area. Stay tuned.
Patrick Higgins is the 5th District commissioner of the Humboldt Bay Harbor, Recreation and Conservation District.