Monday, September 28, 2009

Coastal Voices Guest Editorial: MLPA: Time for fishermen to act

While the mouthpieces of the Marine Life Protection Act process want you to believe you have a say in the choosing of local Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), you do not.

You can spend your time crafting alternatives in the stakeholder meetings. You can comment at the science committee meetings. You can talk for one minute to the Blue Ribbon Task force. Then that task force will cut up all of your carefully crafted alternatives, and forward any closures it wants to the Fish and Game Commission, which will rubber-stamp it into law. Here are a couple of examples of how this process has worked.

In the North Central Area, all of the fishermen, local businesses, environmental groups and elected officials supported a fishermen’s alternative. This alternative was produced with outside funding controlled by the fishing community, and had local support as a good balance between harm and protection. It was painfully crafted to meet all science team requirements.

Even with this level of support and compliance, the Blue Ribbon Task Force would not adopt it. It had to be submitted to the commission as an outside alternative.

In the weeks leading up to that commission meeting, the commissioners were on the verge of stopping the whole MPA process. It was a 3-2 vote for a pause. Suddenly, a commissioner (who supported the stoppage) claimed she had a conflict with her employer and had to remove herself from her chair.

Two days before the meeting, the Governor sat the committee chairmen of the Blue Ribbon Task force in the now-empty F&G commission seat. The vote was 3-2 for continuing the process, and the alternative from the task force for North Central was adopted over objections voiced during hours of public comment.

It should be no surprise that the previous task force chair voted for his alternative: closing half of the accessible abalone diving areas; closing the native sea frond harvesting area, and fishing reefs north and south of point Area.

The southern area, which is in the middle of this process, has seen proposed closed areas that were rejected by the stakeholder group reappear in task force deliberations, clearly ignoring the process agreed upon by the stakeholder team.

Now, I do not say this lightly. Our fishing community has seen many closures, and made many sacrifices for better management, but these outsiders will do anything to insure the closure of important fishing areas. This process is not about careful management of our ocean, it is an unnecessary and even vindictive process to kill local fishing communities.

This leads me, as a long time representative of our local fishing community, to decide that working with these people will not insure a balance between protection and community needs. So I ask our fishing community to stand up with me against this process. You cannot expect your representatives to be successful working within the system. We need you to become involved.

Rally with me on Sunday at the harbor under the big American flag. This rally will be to plan and outline our strategy for attending the first MPA meeting Tuesday.

This is it. After all of the talking and planning, it is time for you to get involved. We need everyone to attend Sunday and Tuesday. If you do not show, then you are conceding your access to our renewable ocean resource. I cannot roll this train over by myself. Signing petitions only goes so far. We must act as a community.

Come out on Sunday at 4 p.m. Together, we can make a difference.

Kenyon Hensel is a local fisherman who has been closely involved with California’s MPA process.

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