Thursday, December 31, 2009

State denies extension for MLPA proposal

By John Driscoll, Eureka Times-Standard
December 29, 2009

The secretary of the California Natural Resources Agency has turned down a request by a tri-county group for more time to draft a proposal for marine reserves along the North Coast.

Secretary Mike Chrisman said that he is denying the request, made by Humboldt Bay Harbor, Recreation and Conservation District Commissioner Pat Higgins on behalf of the North Coast Local Interest MPA Workgroup. He said that an extension is unnecessary for the group to submit a good-quality first-draft of a network of marine protected areas.

In a Dec. 24 letter, Chrisman said that the North Coast community has more scientific data available at this time than any of the other three regions had at this point in the process. He said that the previous six-week extension, which expires on Feb. 1, gave ample opportunity to draw up the proposal.

The Marine Life Protection Act Initiative aims to protect different habitats along the California coast using a set of marine reserves. The controversial process has drawn serious concern from the North Coast study area, in which essentially every elected body in Humboldt, Del Norte and Mendocino counties has cautioned against potential harm to the region's economy and way of life.

It is early in the process on the North Coast, and the tri-county group had asked for the extension because bottom topography data was not yet available and many commercial fishermen were at sea for the Dungeness crab season.

Higgins said that he isn't surprised that Chrisman denied the extension, and said that the group would have a “scientifically robust and economically sound” proposal ready by Feb. 1.

Higgins said that he hopes the science panel that will review the proposal will understand that the formation of marine reserves on the North Coast should be substantially different than in other parts of the state.

”I think we have made a case that has merit,” Higgins said.

Scientists, Anglers' Views Cloud The Route Towards a Marine Reserve

Laguna resident Bill Shedd with a 51-pound white seabass he caught about a quarter mile off of Woods Cove in May.

By Ted Reckas, Laguna Beach Independent
December 25, 2009

Bill Shedd paddled his kayak along the reefs just off of Woods Cove, where he lives and fishes 30 days per year. Nearby in a small boat a father was fishing with his three-year-old daughter and eightyear old son.

“They were giggling and laughing and catching mackerel,” said Shedd, “I told them they are going to close fishing in Laguna and the man said, ‘What? Why would they want to do that? I had no idea that was happening.’”

The process by which new marine protection laws are written is in the late stages, and though there are five proposals under consideration by the state Department of Fish and Game, the one favored by a review panel that seems most likely to become law would close most of Laguna Beach’s coastline to fishing.

Efforts to increase marine protections are driven largely by researchers, whose findings demonstrate many species in the world’s oceans are being over fished. Unchecked fishing can devastate populations, as in the case of abalone, where the black, white and pink species have collapsed, and significant restrictions remain on the red abalone, the only species still fished.

The Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch, which assigns sustainability ratings to commercially fished species, says on its homepage, “Despite our best efforts, the global catch of wild fish leveled off over 20 years ago and 70 percent of the world’s fisheries are being harvested at capacity or are in decline.”

The National Marine Fisheries Service, in its 2008 annual report to Congress, says at least 46 species are overfished, while 280 stocks have undefined overfishing thresholds, which means there is no way to know how many of those are overfished.

Landings of popular fish – a main indicator of population levels – such as white seabass and halibut in Southern California peaked decades ago and have never reached the same levels, according to DFG reports. The annual catch of white seabass peaked at 3.5 million pounds in 1959, and checked in at only a quarter of that, or 900,000 pounds, in 2000. Halibut, perhaps a more sought after fish, peaked at 4.7 million pounds in 1919 and fell off a cliff, spiking up over 2 million only once in the late 1940s, then hovering between a quarter and 1.5 million pounds ever since.

When the Laguna Beach City Council asked the state for a citywide fishing ban, then council member Elizabeth Pearson, crystallized the sentiments of some who are too frustrated to look at the science, saying, “I don’t know that we’re over fished. I don’t know that we need replenishment. There’s no science in front of me to tell me that. But I do know I have seen some disgusting things happening at Shaw’s Cove over the last 20 years. I’ve seen people coming with spears and taking little starfish. And that is the reason I’m coming at it from the angle of preventing abuse. I think that’s where a lot are coming from. There’s been abuse after abuse after abuse. We keep educating and giving people tickets and putting people on staff and empowering the lifeguards and we can’t seem to stop it.”

Therein lies the rub. Scientific arguments aside, recreational fishermen have been labeled as one of the main culprits in the degradation of marine ecosystems, something that frustrates fishermen like Shedd and Bryan Menne, a Laguna Beach resident who has been spear fishing here for over 30 years and sees himself as a steward of the ocean. Menne primarily hunts for halibut and only shoots fish 26 inches or larger, even though the legal requirement is only 22 inches, saying he wants to give them a chance to mature. He takes about one or two per month during halibut season. His biggest ever was a 42-inch, 31-pound fish he caught in 1992. He caught four halibut this year; the largest was 9.5 pounds.

While reserve proponents claim the local waters are overfished, Menne says, "what ocean are you swimming in? I can go and see all the reef fish I want any time,” adding, “Halibut takes more time because you have to hunt for them. That’s the beauty of it. Hunt for it and only take what you eat.”

The halibut fishery illustrates the complexity at work in marine ecosystems; it’s actually several fisheries, with sub-species and various methods of fishing. The Environmental Defense Fund, which publishes sustainability and health information on fisheries, gives Atlantic halibut an “eco-worst” rating, saying, “Atlantic halibut are so depleted from overfishing, the species is off-limits to commercial fishing in U.S. waters.”

At the same time Pacific halibut, a different species caught off Alaska and Canada, gets an “eco-best” rating because it comes from a well-managed fishery that uses the hook and line method, which has relatively little environmental impact. California halibut, a third species, gets a moderate sustainability rating from Seafood Watch when caught with hook and line or bottom trawl, and the worst rating when caught with a set gill net.

Hook and line has low rates of bycatch, referring to catch besides the target fish. For every 1,000 pounds of California halibut caught by bottom trawl, 700 pounds of other fish are caught unintentionally, most of which are thrown back often injured or dead, according to Seafood Watch. The 70 percent bycatch is considered moderate, and only gets a critical rating if it is over 100 percent and regularly includes “species of special concern” like dolphins, seals, other marine mammals or sea birds, according to Seafood Watch criteria. This is the case with set gillnets, which gives that fishery the critical rating.

By comparison, recreational spear fishing done responsibly has a vastly lower impact: there is no exhaust or oil leaks from an engine, there is no habitat damage from dragging a trawl across the sea floor, and there is little or no bycatch, as the speafisherman swims through the water and literally hand picks the animal he wants to consume.

Shedd, president of Irvine-based fishing gear maker AFTCO and chairman of the Hubbs SeaWorld Research Institute, says that sport fishermen are not at fault for the decline in white seabass landings, insisting that landings are lower because there are more regulations now than in the past.

White seabass researcher Larry Allen, of Cal State Northridge, and a member of the Science Advisory Team guiding the Department of Fish and Game’s Marine Life Protection Act proposals, said sea bass catch hit a peak in 1959 when there were fewer restrictions and fishermen were having a free for all, gill netting in the spawning grounds.

While commercial gill netters harvested at will, recreational catch of white seabass flat lined to around 1,000 pounds per year for 30 years, until the nets were outlawed in California by Proposition 132 in 1994. Subsequently, recreational landings jumped to well over 10,000 fish per year in the late 1990’s, according to one DFG database, based on catch logs from commercial passenger fishing vessels.

The average weight of white seabass caught is up as well, from 8.4 pounds in 1990 to 18.5 pounds in 1999, according to the most recent Seafood Watch report.

While Seafood Watch gives white seabass a “best choice” sustainability rating, the report also admits no recent formal assessment of the population exists.

Shedd conceded that lack of data means he can no more claim a healthy white seabass fishery exists than an environmentalist can claim an unhealthy one.

Allen who recently read the yet unpublished, newest version Seafood Watch’s report as a member of their external peer review process, adds, “Probably between 80- 90 percent of the fishery stock of white seabass occurs in Mexico. Since Mexico stopped American vessel landings in 1982 we don’t have any idea what’s going on down there.”

Anecdotally, local fishermen point to the resurgence of the white seabass as a testament to the resilience of marine ecosystems.

If only it were that simple.

Managing fisheries around a single species overlooks its potential impact on the larger ecosystem, said Steve Murray, dean of Cal State Fullerton’s natural sciences and mathematics department and a member of the MLPA science advisory team. “What are fishery managers trying to achieve? How much can we take out of the system and hold the biomass at a somewhat constant sustainable level? If that amount you are taking out is 60-70 percent of the biomass that was there if it wasn’t fished, what does that mean to the rest of the ecosystem?”

Prominent Biologist Challenges MLPA Science Panel Assumptions and Data

By Dan Bacher, IndyBay
December 23, 2009

Patrick Higgins, Humboldt Bay Harbor, Recreation and Conservation District Commissioner and a well respected fishery biologist, is questioning the assumptions and poor data that the "science" behind Governor Arnold Schwarzengger's fast-track Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) process is based on.

In a December 20 letter to a biologist on the MLPA Science Advisory Team, Higgins challenged the spacing guidelines and fundamental assumptions regarding the larval drift model, a model in which ocean groundfish populations are supposedly replenished by the larval fish that drift outside of marine reserves by means of ocean currents.

"The lengthy theoretical discussion of larval drift at your Eureka December 17 SAT meeting had absolutely no foundation," said Higgins. "As pointed out by one of the SAT members, the currents of the North Coast are strong and unique and the linear distance model has no basis here."

He also says that Marine Protected Area (MPA) size guidelines used previously in the MLPA process are "not appropriate" for the North Coast.

"We in the North Coast region prefer fewer large MPAs and believe they are more likely to achieve the conservation objectives of the MLPA," said Higgins. "Small preserves would not succeed in protecting fish populations because of migration of adults out of the MPA and fishing edge effects."

Higgins also points out the failure of the MLPA process to "consider the ecosystem benefits of existing fishery management" and the failure "to integrate existing fishery regulations and restrictions into its MPA size and spacing guidelines and analysis of MPA proposals," as noted by Dr. Ray Hilborn. This failure to consider de-facto MPAs such as the Rockfish Conservation Area, a massive zone closed to groundfish fishing that extends the entire length of California's Continental Shelf, has plagued the MLPA Initiative since Governor Schwarzenegger fast-tracked and privatized the process with funding from the Resource Legacy Foundation beginning in 2004.

"North Coast MPAs need to be considered in conjunction with the Rockfish Conservation Area (RCA)," said Higgins. "That is, if large preserves run out to the 3 mile limit of State waters, conservation benefits of closure to rockfish take from the 120 foot contour depth line to the 200 mile limit of the U.S. waters protect needs to be considered. Therefore, all conservation needs for water depths greater than 120 feet are already covered by the existing RCA and there is no other activity that jeopardizes the natural balance in waters of those depths."

Higgins added, "We hope the North Coast SAT will be open to this argument because the RCA closure is based on species that have rebuilding programs that span several decades into the future. Future adaptive management studies could help decide whether more protection is needed after RCAs are discontinued."

Higgins warned the scientific advisory team that "In the event that we feel there are fatal scientific flaws in the adopted North Coast SAT guidelines, and their imposition may create unknown biological consequences and potentially substantial economic harm, you can expect the North Coast region to challenge the outcome by every means possible."

Higgins' letter was sent as North Coast environmentalists, fishermen, Indian Tribes and seaweed harvesters are criticizing the MLPA process for being rife with conflicts of interests, questionable "science," mission creep and corruption of the democratic process.

In a previous letter Higgins sent on December 18, he asked Resources Secretary Mike Chrisman to extend the deadline for the submittal of North Coast external array proposals for MPAs to March 15. "We need the additional time because the bottom topography data used to conduct a scientifically valid MPA array won't be available until January 15 at the earliest," said Higgins.

Higgins sent his letter on behalf of the Humboldt Bay Harbor, Recreation and Conservation District, as well as governments, harbor districts and tribes of the North Coast region.

Chrisman hasn't responded to the letter yet. However, MLPA Initiative Director Ken Wiseman said he will recommend that Chrisman not grant the extension, according to an article by John Driscoll in the Eureka Times Standard on December 22.

"Ken Wiseman said that the North Coast region already has more information available than other regions did at this point in the process. The initiative has time and budget constraints, Wiseman said, and the legislation is clear that the program use the best available science," the Times Standard stated.

Wiseman's statement to the newspaper appears to be at odds with his 9/28/09 editorial in Times Standard.

"Over the next year, the north coast community is invited to participate in redesigning California's marine protected areas," said Wiseman. "Therefore, at the foundation of the planning process is community involvement, where all members of the public are encouraged to participate and each has the opportunity to influence the outcome."

If Wiseman is so concerned about encouraging "all members of the public to participate" and providing them with the opportunity to "influence the outcome," why is he recommending to Chrisman that Higgins' request for an extension of time be rejected? And why are Wiseman, Chrisman and Schwarzenegger so adamant about ram rodding the MLPA process over North Coast fishermen, tribes and communities even though the science behind the process is highly questionable, as Higgins so eloquently points out?

Below is Higgins' letter:

Patrick Higgins
Humboldt Bay Harbor, Recreation and Conservation District Commissioner
4649 Aster Avenue
McKinleyville, CA 95519

December 20, 2009
Jason Vasques, Associate Marine Biologist
MLPA Science Advisory Team Staff Support
350 Harbor Blvd.
Belmont, CA 94002

Re: North Coast Science Advisory Team Deliberations on Size and Spacing of Marine Protected Areas and Habitat Replication Requirements

Dear Mr. Vasques,

I am writing to you as an individual for expediency, but I assure you that the questions I am posing are on behalf of the governments and concerned community members of the North Coast. I request that this letter be circulated to all individuals on Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) appointed North Coast Science Advisory Team (SAT) and that issues herein be specifically discussed at their next public meeting. The concerns I will address below are regarding larval drift theories and spacing requirements, size of MPAs and the need for following replication guidelines similar to those previously adopted in other regions.

Spacing Guidelines and Larval Drift

The lengthy theoretical discussion of larval drift at your Eureka December 17 SAT meeting had absolutely no foundation. As pointed out by one of the SAT members, the currents of the North Coast are strong and unique and the linear distance model has no basis here. Figure 1 is CenCOOS oceanographic data from between Shelter Cove and Point Arena showing a large circular current or gyre. Gyres are fairly stable features that oscillate and can shift somewhat seasonally. Longshore currents along much of the length of the North Coast reverse from southerly to northerly with seasons. Ekman spirals also develop seasonally that can cause larvae to be moved perpendicular to the coast (Hilborn et al. 2006).

I question other more fundamental assumptions regarding the larval drift model: 1) that larvae must land in an MPA to recruit or 2) that there must be an MPA for larvae to be generated; both assumptions are unmet. For the sake of discussion, let us consider a larvae drifting north linearly from an MPA sited south of the Mattole River. If it were to settle near Cape Mendocino and successfully recruit to the juvenile fish stage, under current fishing pressure it would not likely be harvested until after it spawned, possibly several times. Also, millions of larvae are currently generated along our wild coast without benefit of MPAs, which undermines the corollary assumption. We believe that the statement of Hilborn et al. (2006) that “there is now no evidence that current fishing practices upset the ‘natural’ biological diversity of the marine ecosystem” applies to the North Coast region.

MPA Size Guidelines Used Previously Not Appropriate for North Coast

I strongly favor the arguments of Dr. Ray Hilborn, Professor of Fisheries at the University of Washington, and Hilborn et al. (2006) provide the following insight regarding the size and spacing of MPAs under the California MLPAI:

“The MLPA statute provided no explicit guidance to address the ‘SLOSS’ (single large or several small) MPA debate, but suggested that decisions on size and placement be made by a master plan team and regulatory agencies, with the involvement of stakeholders. The science guidance provided by the MLPA Initiative Science Advisory
Team (SAT) clearly favored the SS (several small) approach in its interpretation of the law. The SAT advice produced a very extensive network of MPAs in each of the MPA network proposals, with a heavy emphasis on nearshore rocky habitat protected in marine reserves.”

We in the North Coast region prefer fewer large MPAs and believe they are more likely to achieve the conservation objectives of the MLPA. Small preserves would not succeed in protecting fish populations because of migration of adults out of the MPA and fishing edge effects. Effort shift further complicates impact analysis and needs consideration. There may be a few North Coast areas of special biological significance that should be protected at a smaller scale, but a few well placed large preserves away from ports along remote sections of our coast will serve all aspects of the MLPA mission better than numerous small preserves; and it protects our economy and way of life.

Hilborn et al. (2006) noted that previous SATs had “failed to consider the ecosystem benefits of existing fishery management and failed to integrate existing fishery regulations and restrictions into its MPA size and spacing guidelines and analysis of MPA proposals.” North Coast MPAs need to be considered in conjunction with the Rockfish Conservation Area (RCA). That is, if large preserves run out to the 3 mile limit of State waters, conservation benefits of closure to rockfish take from the 120 foot contour depth line to the 200 mile limit of the U.S. waters protect needs to be considered. Therefore, all conservation needs for water depths greater than 120 feet are already covered by the existing RCA and there is no other activity that jeopardizes the natural balance in waters of those depths. We hope the North Coast SAT will be open to this argument because the RCA closure is based on species that have rebuilding programs that span several decades into the future. Future adaptive management studies could help decide whether more protection is needed after RCAs are discontinued.

Replication of Habitat Requirements

If North Coast residents come up with a workable strategy for fewer large conservation areas, then the area of habitat types protected should be the criteria for judgment of sufficiency, not that habitats have to be in numerous small preserves. The SAT seemed perplexed on December 17 about the possibility of allowing most significant protection to occur in fewer, larger MPAs. I do not think that the theoretical basis of the need for replication can be validated and hope the SAT will also reconsider this convention and its requirement for application on the North Coast.

The SAT process as manifest in your recent Eureka meeting gave me concern because of the pressure to adopt previously formulated guidelines rapidly, but I was relieved that size and spacing decision were delayed. The MLPA has been a major source of controversy and angst in our community, but it has caused us to focus on nearshore ocean conservation needs. We think we will meet these needs through the reserve design we will offer as an External MPA Array proposal. We will provide a scientific framework and a workable plan founded on local knowledge and data and hope the SAT will not constrain itself arbitrarily in judging it.

In the event that we feel there are fatal scientific flaws in the adopted North Coast SAT guidelines, and their imposition may create unknown biological consequences and potentially substantial economic harm, you can expect the North Coast region to challenge the outcome by every means possible.

Patrick Higgins

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Fish and Game Commission Supports ‘Blue Ribbon Task Force’ Closure Plan

By Ambrosia Sarabia, The Log
December 22, 2009

Many sport anglers who had encouraged members of the California Fish and Game Commission to select the best of four alternative maps for Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) sanctuary areas left the meeting unsatisfied when the commission selected an alternative that closed prime fishing waters off Laguna Beach and Point Dume.

Closures to Come— Marina Life Protection Act (MLPA) closures will have a major impact on anglers who currently fish off Laguna Beach, if the Blue Ribbon Task Force’s proposed no-take zones map is approved in 2010.

The widely criticized closures are the ones recommended by the MLPA Blue Ribbon Task Force last month. The plan, cobbled together from both environmentalist and fishing stakeholder group recommendations, would close nearly 400 square miles of ocean off the Southern California coastline to fishing.

Speakers both for and against selected closures outlined in four plans -- three proposals recommended by stakeholders after months of discussion and one designed by the Blue Ribbon Task Force -- packed the conference room and addressed the commission, one by one. Many displayed their chosen map, holding bright-colored signs.

“This is a professional event, and I ask that those attempting to get on camera such as at a sports event refrain from doing so,” Fish and Game Commission chairman Richard Rogers said at one point during the meeting.

In a 3-1 vote, the commission moved to send the Blue Ribbon Task Force’s selected map through the environmental impact review process. The other three plans will serve as alternatives.

“It was no surprise, actually,” said Paul Romanowski, a recreational fisherman and a member of the California Fisheries Coalition. “It is definitely a mix of all three proposals -- and there are some things on it that we don’t like, but some are things that we developed during the first round a year ago.”

Last month, the Blue Ribbon Task Force reviewed three alternatives, which were proposed by environmentalists, anglers and other stakeholders. The task force decided to develop its own Integrated Preferred Alternative (IPA) plan and recommended it to the commission.

The action upset many anglers and boaters.

For the past several months, rallies have been held throughout Southern California where those in favor of retaining open-take areas joined to show their support for Proposal 2, which had the fewest closures when compared to Proposals 1 and 3.

Three groups were created to oversee specific elements of the Marine Life Protection Act: the MLPA Blue Ribbon Task Force, the Science Advisory Team and the South Coast Regional Stakeholder Group.

For many anglers, such as Romanowski, the shape of the Laguna no-take zone has been the most unsettling piece of the current plan. Under the current outline, a ban will be placed on fishing along 6 miles of the Laguna Beach coastline.

The decision also places restrictions on the Bolsa Chica area.

“It is unfeasible and unreasonable, and it would be a devastating blow to all coastal users in Laguna, if it were to go through as it is drawn,” Romanowski said. “It shuts off 30-35 public access points in Laguna, and there would be no handicap access for fishing.”

Other changes that Romanowski would like see addressed include safety, feasibility and legal issues concerning Point Dume and Scripps Pier.

The San Diego region will not have a protected area off Del Mar, but a protected zone off south La Jolla will be created.

In Los Angeles County, areas off the back side of Catalina Island would remain open to sportfishing for yellowtail and swordfish, but other species such as sea urchin and sea cucumber will not be allowed to be removed from the area. The kelp forest and rocky reef habitats off Palos Verdes Peninsula would also remain open to anglers.

Leslie Page, of Redondo Beach Marina, asked commissioners to help her select which employees to terminate if Proposal 2 is not selected.

“It breaks my heart,” Page said. “My harbor and marina will not be able to support them.”

Once a review of the closure plan is, the commission will vote to establish the new fishing regulations. The report is not expected to be completed until late 2010.

Local group asks for more time on MPAs

By John Driscoll, Eureka Times-Standard
December 22, 2009

The group of governments, harbor districts, tribes and fishermen working to develop a set of proposed marine reserves on the North Coast is again asking the state for more time because it doesn't have enough information to do the job.

In a letter to California Resources Secretary Mike Chrisman last week, the North Coast Local Interest MPA Work Group asked that the deadline to produce the proposal be extended to March 15, six weeks after the deadline that was recently extended to Feb. 1.

Humboldt Bay Harbor, Recreation and Conservation District Commissioner Pat Higgins wrote that bottom topography data needed for mapping in the Marine Life Protection Act Initiative is not likely to be available until after Jan. 15. Many commercial fishermen are also in the height of Dungeness crab season, Higgins wrote, and an extension would allow them to be better able to participate.

Chrisman agreed to extend the deadline from Dec. 15 to Feb. 1 back in October after Assemblyman Wesley Chesbro, D-Arcata, and Sen. Patricia Wiggins, D-Santa Rosa, appealed to him.

The MLPA aims to set up a network of marine reserves meant to protect different habitats along the California coast, such as rocky areas and kelp forests, and the species that live in them. The process has been controversial in other areas of the state, and in the North Coast study area essentially every elected body has expressed concerns about the potential for the process to harm the region's economy and way of life.

MLPA Initiative Executive Director Ken Wiseman said that the North Coast region already has more information available than other regions did at this point in the process. The initiative has time and budget constraints, Wiseman said, and the legislation is clear that the program use the best available science.

He also said that there are several more stages of the process that will allow additional information to be added and considered. Wiseman said he'll recommend Chrisman not grant the extension.

”There will be lots of time over the year to refine it,” Wiseman said.

Monday, December 21, 2009

The Whalegate Scandal: State Lands Commission Finds MLPA Habitat Data Acquired Illegally

Local fishermen and environmentalists are wondering: if Fugro Pelagos was cutting corners by illegally failing to pay for marine wildlife observers, what other corners did they cut in obtaining the habitat data?

By Dan Bacher, IndyBay
December 21, 2009

In the latest episode in the long, sordid saga of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's widely-contested Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) process, the California State Lands Commission (SLC) at its meeting in San Diego on December 17 voted not to revoke the permit for Fugro Pelagos research vessel activity on the condition that the company abide by the terms of the permit in the future. Commission staff found that Fugro Pelagos violated the terms of its permit when it struck and killed a blue whale in October, 2009 off Fort Bragg when its contract vessel was mapping the sea floor for the MLPA Initiative.

The finding that the MLPA habitat data was acquired illegally comes at a time when a broad coalition of North Coast environmentalists, fishermen, Native Americans and seaweed harvesters is criticizing the MLPA process for being rife with conflicts of interests, mission creep, environmental injustice and corruption of the democratic process.

Staff found that the company:
-Did not notify the State Lands Commission prior to its survey activity
-Did not have marine wildlife observers on board.

Commission staff cited California Coastal Conservancy Executive Director Sam Schuchat's belief that the killing of the whale was "an accident and even if the observers were on board, the whale would have been killed." No supporting evidence was provided, according to Jim Martin, West Coast Regional Director of the Recreational Fishing Alliance.

Staff recommended that the permit be revoked until Jan. 17, 2010 and then returned - if the company pays for SLC costs of investigating the incident and preparing the report. The cost is 70 staff hours amounting to $13,000.

David Millar, President of Fugro Pelagos, testified. He told the Commission that the company did not violate its permit. He stated the company felt "bad about the large mammal being killed."

Millar said his company did not ignore the conditions of its permit - they argued they do not believe their operations were subject to the permit.

The Commission offered a deal to the company that it could keep its permit if it followed the staff's recommendations - payment of costs to the SLC to investigate the incident, and to have observers on board when operating and to notify SLC before conducting operations, according to Martin.

Mr. Millar objected to the conditions only applying to his company, putting him in a competitive disadvantage. He asked that other companies (8 approximately) be required to follow the same terms. The Commissioners said they would look into that issue, but meanwhile, did Miller agree to the terms or did he want his permit revoked? Miller agreed to the terms.

Steve Sullivan, owner of a company that does similar work on hydrographic surveys, called on Fugro Pelagos to reimburse the state for $16 million in public funding for the joint NOAA/California Coastal Conservancy project to map northern California's sea floor in state waters. Sullivan stated that the habitat data collected for the Marine Life Protection Act Initiative was obtained illegally, according to the findings of the State Lands Commission. Sullivan called into question the data being used in the MLPA process.

Today Sullivan praised the State Lands Commission decision about Fugro's illegal surveys conducted for MLPA designation.

"I am very pleased that the State Lands Commission has finally required the multi-billion dollar international firm, Fugro, to abide by the same regulations to protect marine mammals that us small California survey companies have complied with for years," said Sullivan. "At their meeting on 17 December, the State Lands Commission disclosed that Fugro and a new permit applicant, the California State University at Monterey Bay (CSUMB), have for years been conducting marine surveys illegally, without compliance with regulations to protect marine mammals.

"The illegal surveys conducted for Marine Life Protected Area (MLPA) designation by Fugro and CSUMB, which ultimately resulted in the death of a blue whale, has severely tarnished the image of the Ocean Protection Council (OPC)," Sullivan emphasized. "The State cannot be allowed to use illegally-obtained survey data to designate Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) that restrict the rights of fishermen and Native Americans. Imposing severe restrictions on the use of our State’s marine resources requires the full faith and confidence of the public; unfortunately the actions of the OPC and its survey contractors have shaken that trust."

Sullivan said the illegal surveys conducted for the OPC by Professor Rikk Kvitek of the CSUMB casts a pall over the legitimacy of the MLPA-designations, similar to the concerns about the legitimacy of diesel emission regulations after the California Air Resources Board ignored warnings that their statistician, Hien Tran, had mis-represented his credentials

"The OPC ignored warnings issued years ago that Rikk Kvitek, the primary scientist associated with designating MLPAs, was conducting illegal surveys without the required State-permit," stated Sullivan. "The OPC was publicly warned only 32 days before the blue whale was killed that their survey contractor, Fugro, was not in compliance with State regulations that protect marine mammals. The OPC has failed its charter to protect California’s marine resources."

He urged the OPC to delay designation of the Marine Protected Areas until the doubts associated with the legitimacy of the survey data are resolved, and said the State "should demand to be reimbursed by Fugro and the CSUMB for the $16 million of funding they received for conducting the illegal surveys."

On October 18, 2009, a vessel under contract for mapping sea floor habitat data for the MLPA process in California struck and killed a rare female blue whale off the coast south of Fort Bragg, in Mendocino County. The vessel, "Pacific Star," ceased operations after the whale strike. The killing of the whale outraged local environmentalists and fishermen now fighting the privately-funded MLPA process.

"Local fishermen are already pointing out data gaps in the MLPA science process as they struggle to meet a February 1, 2010 deadline for initial proposals for marine protected areas on the north coast," said Jim Martin. "Fishermen are wondering: if Fugro Pelagos was cutting corners by illegally failing to pay for marine wildlife observers, what other corners did they cut in obtaining the habitat data? The viability of sustainable fisheries on the north coast depend on the accuracy and integrity of this data."

Increasing numbers of individuals and organizations from a variety of political perspectives have criticized the MLPA initiative for being an unjust process, overseen by oil industry, real estate, marina development and other corporate interests, that has no respect for the rights of sustainable fishermen, seaweed harvesters and Indian Tribal members. The National Congress of American Indians, at their annual session from October 11-16 in Palm Springs, passed a strongly worded resolution blasting Schwarzenegger's MLPA process for failing to recognize the subsistence, ceremonial and cultural rights of California Indian Tribes.

"While the tribes support the State's goal of developing marine protection, they are concerned that the State's MLPA process does not address their sovereign standing or interests," according to the resolution. "To date there have been no government to government consultations by the State with any tribe in California in the MLPA implementation process, nor is there a mention of the sovereign status of the tribes in the MLPA Master Plan or legislation."

The killing of a rare blue whale by a boat, contracted by the Ocean Protection Council, to conduct what turned out to be an illegally conducted mapping survey of the seafloor for the MLPA process, an initiative supposedly designed to "protect" marine life, could only happen in Schwarzenegger's California. This bizarre incident is akin to the fire department burning the firehouse down!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Fearing a take-away

1,000-plus pounds of seafood sold at anti-MLPA event

Cindy Hensel wears her sentiments on her T-shirt in the kitchen. (The Daily Triplicate/Bryant Anderson)

By Kurt Madar, The Daily Triplicate
December 15, 2009

The battle to prevent further fishing restrictions along the North Coast was feeding Crescent City well Sunday.

Local fishermen hosted an all-you-can-eat crab feed at the Del Norte County Fairgrounds to raise money for fighting a statewide initiative that could close important areas for local fishing.

It was well attended.

Organizers said that after the three-hour affair was over they had sold nearly 1,000 pounds of crab donated from local boats.

“We had between 15 and 20 boats that donated crab for the feed,” said organizer Kenyon Hensel. “By the end we only had about 60 or 70 pounds left.”

The meal started at 3 p.m. Sunday, and for $10 people got plates heaped with crab, a cup of melted butter, a bowl of coleslaw, a roll and pink lemonade.

And they could go back for more as often as they wanted.

Not only were they selling crab dinners, organizers also offered whole live and cooked crabs for $6 apiece.

“It’s absolutely fantastic,” said Brookings resident Carolyn Gimby. “Not only is the food excellent and totally worth the trip, it’s for a good cause. Local fishermen support the community, so the community should support them back.”

Gimby clearly was not alone in enjoying the spread, because unlike most full dining rooms, the sound of conversation was drowned out by the sound of eating.

Cracking shells overwhelmed the quiet murmuring of voices, and many diners went back in line for seconds, all to the succulent sweet smell of cooking crab.

Gimby wasn’t the only lover of crab who felt the dinner was important for more than just filling up on fresh seafood.

“I grew up here,” said Gasquet resident Tom Stewart, who was with his wife buying two bags of whole cooked crab to take home. “We’ve got the most accessible port in Northern California and it needs our support. Things like this may be history if they take away fishing areas.”

The crab feed was the second fundraiser held at the fairgrounds to raise money to fight the Marine Life Protection Act Initiative.

The MLPA is a state-driven initiative that designs marine protected areas along the California coast, and the North Coast is the fourth region in California to begin the process.

Three types of MPAs could be established here.

The three levels of protection are primarily based on the severity of the take limit. From least restrictive to most, they include marine conservation areas, marine parks, and marine reserves (which would be no-take areas).

“We used funds from the fish feed (the first fundraiser) to retain a lawyer to investigate whether it’s legal for private parties to be funding a state-driven initiative,” Hensel said. “The funds from the crab feed will go to sustain him for the next six months while we go through the process.”

“This really is a community-based effort, not only from the fishermen that donated the crab, but also from the community members that came out to buy and eat it,” Hensel said. “We didn’t expect it, but the individual crab sales were much higher than the dinners.”

The entire affair was not only supported by donated crab, but also run by volunteers from the fishing community.

Bruce Miller, a local fishermen since 1984, spent the afternoon standing tall over two boilers filled with crab, pickling seasoning and salt.

“I’ve been cooking crab for a long time,” Miller said as he noted the time a batch was put in the roiling water. “And they want to take this away,” he said, pointing to the heaps of Dungeness crab locked pincher to pincher.

Another volunteer and member of the local fishing community, Pat Wilson, put it more directly.

“We are having a great crab season,” Wilson said. “And considering that these things usually run in cycles, it would be a crime if we lost crucial fishing grounds right before things started getting better.”

Wilson is referring to the fact that recent crab seasons have been so abysmal that fishermen have been tightening their belts for years now.

He is worried that just as things start to get good again, just as local fishermen start making up for the bad years, it could all get taken away.

If the fight against the MLPA is unsuccessful, “this won’t be the first time the community has lost something important,” Miller said, referring to the logging industry. “And probably not the last.”

Friday, December 11, 2009

California Fish and Game Commission Weighs in on South Coast Region Marine Protected Areas

December 10, 2009

On Wednesday, December 9, California's Fish and Game Commission heard reports and recommendations from the Blue Ribbon Task Force (BRTF) regarding the establishment of new marine protected areas (MPAs) along California's South Coast from Point Conception to the Mexican border in accordance with the state's Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA).

The commission is responsible for determining which one of four MPA proposals submitted by the BRTF will be selected for the South Coast. The Partnership for Sustainable Oceans (PSO), a broad-based coalition of companies and associations representing recreational fishing and boating interests, is advocating for Proposal 2 because it provides a balanced approach based upon reliable science and a continuation of sound fisheries management policies which have resulted in the return of healthy fish populations and renewed ocean habitat off the California coastline. The BRTF submitted its own Integrated Preferred Alternative proposal.

Commission Vice President Richard Rogers, acting as chairperson in the absence of commission President Jim Kellogg, said, "The Commission takes the MLPA process very seriously. We have a multitude of things to consider and we will not rush this process. We're committed to being fully informed on all the issues which includes ample opportunity for the public to comment. I think it is safe to say that this deliberation process will extend well into the latter part of 2010."

The PSO supports Proposal 2 which provides significant additional conservation for California's ocean resources while minimizing the economic impact of lost fishing opportunity. The proposal was created by stakeholders who worked for 14 months through the Regional Stakeholder Group (RSG) process. Bob Fletcher, a PSO and RSG member and advisor to the Sportfishing Association of California said, "Proposal 2 is the real winner receiving strong cross-interest support in the RSG workgroup. We are all aware of the fiscal crisis facing California, and the reality is that Proposal 2 is the only MPA proposal that makes conservation and economic sense." Fletcher further said, "Anglers have always been on the forefront of recognizing when there are issues affecting the fisheries. A draconian system of MPAs penalizes conservation efforts and honest fishermen. The BRTF's Integrated Preferred Alternative proposal is a political deal. Proposal 2 is the real deal."

Patty Doerr, Ocean Resource Policy Director for the American Sportfishing Association, also a PSO member said, "At the end of this process, we hope that common sense, balanced with a concern for the potential economic impact on California's fragile economy and double-digit unemployment rate, will prevail."

California's Fish and Game Commission is scheduled for February 3-4, 2010, in Sacramento at the Resources Building Auditorium, 1416 Ninth Street.

Go to for additional MLPA updates, sign-up for alerts and additional information about how to contact appropriate representatives.

Fletcher concluded, "I ask everyone to get involved and help save Southern California from unnecessary fishing closures and restricted public access."

Editorial: Devil in the details

Laguna Beach Coastline Pilot
December 10, 2009

And so we wait.

The future of the coast off of Laguna Beach has moved behind the scenes with the completion of a public process for the Marine Life Protection Act. The state Fish and Game Commission received testimony Wednesday on the Blue Ribbon Task Force-approved proposal for a partial “no-take” zone in Laguna, but did not make a final decision.

While the gears of government turn, we want to make it clear: A sweeping ban off Laguna — when even Crystal Cove would remain open — is clearly inappropriate. For some, fishing is a treasured recreational activity, and for many locals it is a livelihood.

The MLPA process has been rife with controversy in Laguna Beach, after recreational fishermen and commercial lobstermen realized they were about to lose the long-held right to fish in the coves and reef points off of the city.

The process has been a winding one, with multiple stakeholder proposals, a political lobbying campaign on all sides, and a lot of heat but very little light on the subject of what measures will really help the marine environment.

Of three stakeholder proposals put before the Blue Ribbon Task Force in October, the most restrictive — a citywide no-take zone — was the one that had the backing of most elected officials here. Early support from the Laguna Beach City Council for a citywide ban on fishing was prompted by a coalition of groups organized under the name Laguna Bluebelt, including environmental groups and Village Laguna.

In June, the council voted 4 to 1 to support a citywide no-take zone, before the first public meeting on the MLPA was even held. This preemptive strike by the council majority did not sit well with many who were not privy to the rationale behind such a drastic proposal.

Then-Mayor Kelly Boyd, who grew up on the ocean and often goes out fishing locally, refused to sign the council-supported letter on the matter and began organizing the opposition.

The argument got so out of hand that the issue of name-calling became an amusing sidelight as letter-writers debated whether the mayor was or was not called a “fish slaughterer” by one marine reserve proponent, and what indeed would be meant by such a term. It was all great sport for those on the sidelines, but this comedic relief belies the seriousness of what is at stake.

Since then, the pro-fishing community has gotten its message out loud and clear, and a “compromise” no-take zone was hammered out by the Blue Ribbon Task Force leaving open a relatively inaccessible portion of South Laguna coastline including the private beach of Three Arch Bay. That is the one that Fish and Game will evidently be putting through the California Environmental Quality Act test.

The devil is in the details, and the details won’t be forthcoming for quite some time.

In the meantime, one can still go and cast a line off Laguna.

Fish and Game panel hears views on Marine Life Protection proposal

By Dave Schwab, La Jolla Light
December 10, 2009

More than 160 speakers had a minute each on Dec. 9 to tell the Marine Life Protection Act Blue Ribbon Task Force and state Fish and Game Commission what they think about proposals for Marine Protected Areas off limits to fishing along the Southern California coast including La Jolla and coastal North County.

At the onset of the meeting, which included two hours of public comment, Richard Rogers, vice president of the California Fish and Game Commission board said, "What we're here to do today is hear the alternatives from the Blue Ribbon Task Force. We're not here to make a decision on, or adopt, any of those packages."

Rogers said formal adoption of an alternative marine protected area package would play out over three different public meetings to be held in 2010.

"A final decision will probably be late fall or early winter (2010)," he added.

Last month, the five-member state Blue Ribbon Task Force, walking a tightrope between marine conservation and preserving ocean access, chose a hybrid preferred alternative to protect San Diego's coastline that lies between what fishing interests and environmentalists desired.

Proposed for protection is a seven-mile, no-take zone from south La Jolla near WindanSea to Crystal Pier in Pacific Beach, which fishermen warn could "herd" users together into tightly compacted areas. But the panel opted not to create a larger, nine-mile, no-take area straddling La Jolla and Pacific Beach, which scientists had sought as a way to repopulate dwindling fish species.

They also recommended that an area along Swami's beach in Encinitas be designated a State Marine Conservation Area, allowing some types of fishing. The Del Mar-Solana Beach coastline is not included in the designated area and the San Dieguito Lagoon is already designated as a Marine State Park.

Recreational Boaters of California Support MLPA Proposal #2

Recreational Boaters of California MLPA 12-8-09

New Southern California underwater marine habitats approved

By Kristopher Hanson, Contra Costa Times

State authorities approved new underwater marine habitats off Southern California's coast Wednesday, restricting fishing and diving in areas where stocks have been severely depleted in recent decades.

The move by the California Dept. of Fish and Game Commission comes after months of wrangling over details of the plan, which establishes new, protected marine habitats around the Channel Islands, Palos Verdes Peninsula and near the Bolsa Chica wetlands, among other areas.

Perhaps most controversial for local recreational anglers is the inclusion in the plan of fishing restrictions near Rocky Point - a popular spot off the Palos Verdes Peninsula. While some areas near Point Vicente will fall under protection, large swaths will remain open for fishing and lobster diving.

Scientists have long promoted the creation of underwater marine reserves as a way to protect wildlife and submerged environments - much like national and state parks do on land.

The development of the new zones - or marine protected areas - is the result of a 1999 law known as the Marine Life Protection Act, which established the need for protected wildlife preserves off California's 1,100 miles of coastline.

Biologists believe that by protecting critical breeding and feeding areas, fish and other sea creatures will eventually return to healthy population levels, creating a "spillover" effect that will ultimately benefit commercial and recreational anglers.

But drawing up the boundaries of those zones has been the subject of a long, heated debate involving marine biologists, commercial fishermen, recreational anglers and business owners for the past year.

In the end, the network of protected areas approved by the Fish and Game Commission during Wednesday's hearing in Los Angeles combined a mix of commercial and environmental priorities.

"It doesn't scratch everybody's itch...but we think it's the best possible approach to lead us into a sustainable future," said Cathy Reheis-Boyd, chairwoman of the Fish and Game task force that drew up the map.

The new rules begin phasing in around late 2010.

Coast protection plans move to Calif. commission

By JOHN ANTCZAK, Associated Press
December 9, 2009

The California Fish and Game Commission has begun hearing a hotly debated proposal for protecting ocean life and habitat along the state's south coast.

A task force on Wednesday presented the commission the preferred alternative it developed after 18 months of listening to diverse interests including fishermen, marina operators, environmentalists and scientists.

The commissioners have also heard passionate testimony from ocean users who believe some of the proposed reserves and conservation areas will harm business and put people out of work.

Commission Vice President Richard Rogers says a decision is months away.

California's 1999 Marine Life Protection Act requires development of science-based protected areas but the task force says it has taken socioeconomic factors into consideration.

Supervisors back marine life protection funding request

By John Driscoll, Eureka Times-Standard
December 9, 2009

The Humboldt County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday chose to support a Humboldt Bay Harbor, Conservation and Recreation District request for funds to develop a single marine reserve proposal for the state's Marine Life Protection Act Initiative.

Supervisors heard from several involved in the controversial process about the importance of maintaining a united effort on the North Coast. The Harbor District is looking for $50,000 from the Resources Legacy Foundation, the organization that is part of the public-private partnership with the state.

”We have stuck together,” said local fishing advocate Dennis Mayo. “We are going to stick together.”

Mayo said that getting local representation on the initiative's Blue Ribbon Task Force -- 1st District Supervisor Jimmy Smith was appointed last month -- was key, and the result of substantial efforts on the part of the community.

The Marine Life Protection Act looks to protect different habitats along the California coast, such as rocky areas and kelp forests, as well as the species that live in them. Expected to work like a network, Marine Protected Areas limit or eliminate fishing and other activities in state waters out to 3 miles.

The potential economic impacts to the area from additional regulations have raised major concerns in Humboldt, Del Norte and Mendocino counties. Jacque Hostler with the Trinidad Rancheria showed supervisors a recently developed map of all the areas closed to fishing in the region.

Only a small sliver of state waters has no specific closures for Dungeness crab, salmon and rockfish, and many closures also extend farther out to sea.

”We have huge regulations already,” Hostler said. “This is all we have left to regulate.”

Harbor District Conservation Director Adam Wagschal said that the broad coalition of interests that has formed locally would do best to offer the MLPA initiative a single proposal for a set of marine protected areas.

The funds the district is seeking would help coordinate stakeholder meetings, provide a marine science report and contribute to the district's coordination and GIS efforts, Wagschal said.

Enlarged marine sanctuaries lack funding for enforcement

Fish and Game at a loss for monitoring new areas

By Mike Lee, San Diego Union-Tribune
December 9, 2009

The millions of dollars spent on a decade-long effort to create or enlarge coastal sanctuaries could fail to enhance protection for marine life because the state lacks funding to enforce or manage the project.

In the face of California’s $20 billion budget deficit, it’s unclear how the Department of Fish and Game will pay for programs to educate the public about marine protected areas, where seafood harvesting is banned or restricted; for more wardens to catch poachers; and for long-term studies on whether expanding the zones results in better conservation.

The department’s wardens said they don’t have the resources to patrol more marine protected areas along California’s 1,100-mile coastline, including new or enlarged sites off Encinitas, Imperial Beach, La Jolla and Point Loma.

“We can’t keep people out of them, so what good is the science if you can’t be assured that those areas are completely protected?” said Todd Tognazzini, president of the California Fish and Game Wardens Association, which advocates for wildlife agents.

The Legislature mandated remapping of marine protected areas in 1999, but that effort has taken years to develop partly because of the state’s financial problems. In regions that have been revamped for the new network, the zones are from two to six times their former size.

Managing the whole system is projected to cost an average of $24 million a year, although it could top $42 million, Fish and Game officials said. In contrast, the agency’s current annual budget for planning and implementing the network is $4.4 million.

The shortfall is best exemplified by game wardens, whose ranks remain about the same as 30 years ago even though the state’s population has risen more than 60 percent. California’s budget cuts in recent years have worsened the staffing problem by forcing wardens to take furloughs that roughly amount to a 14 percent reduction in force.

The state’s wildlife enforcement chief, Nancy Foley at the Department of Fish and Game, acknowledged that California has the lowest ratio of wardens to residents in the nation — one warden to about 175,000 residents. California has about 220 game wardens. Florida, with half of California’s population, has three times as many wildlife enforcement officers.

California doesn’t record how many citations are issued in marine protected areas, but more than two-thirds of the violations reported by Fish and Game wardens since at least 2005 involved illegal sportfishing.

Foley said more and bigger marine protected areas would add to her wardens’ workload.

“We see that it’s going to present some significant challenges,” she said. “We will certainly provide the level of enforcement that we have available to us.”

Some supporters of the Marine Life Protection Act of 1999 minimize the financial uncertainties; they said the new zones will succeed with contributions from residents, nonprofit groups and government leaders.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has made ocean recovery a top priority, and foundations have poured millions of dollars into the remapping. That partnership provides hope for good management of the marine zones despite the state’s budget crisis, said Kate Hanley, a marine expert for the environmental group San Diego Coastkeeper.

“Solutions emerge, especially with something as important as this,” Hanley said.

Hanley expects fishermen, divers, kayakers and others who frequent the coast to report problems such as rogue anglers when game wardens aren’t around.

“We’ll have a lot of eyes and ears on the water who will certainly take offense to anyone violating the laws,” she said.

Tognazzini said such help is of little value when California doesn’t have enough wildlife agents to investigate complaints and write citations that will hold up in court.

He said enforcement is complicated by the lack of adequate public notices about where protected areas begin and end.

“They are well-defined in the law, but I am unaware of signs on the shore or signs on the ocean,” Tognazzini said, adding that it is a fisherman’s duty to know the map coordinates of protected areas.

Anglers such as Bob Fletcher of San Diego expect poachers to take advantage of spotty law enforcement.

“It is a central issue, and it raises what I consider a fatal flaw in this whole process,” Fletcher said. “If there isn’t the kind of protection to allow the development of a more abundant and complex ecosystem, then you have done nothing but penalize honest fishermen.”

The management-resources issue has been overshadowed by interest groups sparring over how much to enlarge marine protected areas. Fishermen often want to maintain full access to spots that conservationists aim to make off-limits.

State-sponsored panels have held meeting after meeting, including a high-profile one today in Los Angeles, to refine the expansion strategy for each region — from San Diego to Del Norte counties. They painstakingly try to balance the views of fishermen, environmentalists, scientists, recreationalists and others.

Southern California is the third of five sections to be remapped. At today’s meeting, the state Fish and Game Commission will review expansion proposals for that region and set a course for rendering a final decision next year.

The statewide system is supposed to be in place by 2012, a feat that probably wouldn’t be possible without private donors.

In 2004, the Resources Legacy Fund Foundation stepped up with money to jump-start the remapping process, which had been stalled by California’s financial shortfalls. To date, the foundation has pledged more than $20 million for redesigning the protected areas and nearly $3 million to develop a scientific monitoring program for them.

More recently, the state’s Ocean Protection Council set aside $12 million for baseline ecological analysis of the network over the next few years.

It’s uncertain whether donations will continue to flow and how much money the Legislature and governor can afford to spend amid budget downsizing.

Susan Golding, a former San Diego mayor who now serves on the Ocean Protection Council board, is concerned about California’s weak enforcement capability and the possibility that it won’t pay for research needed to guide management of marine protected areas.

“Without good, strong monitoring, all of these efforts will be in vain,” Golding said. “With good, strong monitoring based on science and enough money to do it right, it will be a historic effort because we will actually know whether the decisions made were the right ones.”

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Supervisors take on MLPA

By Donna Tam, Eureka Times-Standard
December 8, 2009

The Humboldt County Board of Supervisors will consider supporting the Humboldt Bay Harbor, Recreation and Conservation District's grant application to develop alternatives to the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) today.

The board is scheduled to hear a presentation on the MLPA application at 10 a.m.

The Marine Life Protection Act calls for designating some areas off limits to fishing and other extractive activities. The North Coast is the last region being addressed by the initiative, which has proved particularly controversial.

According to a staff report, the Harbor District's workgroup -- comprised of tribes, sport and commercial fishermen, conservationists and other interest groups -- is looking to develop alternatives.

Jacque Hostler from the Trinidad Rancheria -- as well as other workgroup members -- will be on hand for the presentation.

Also on the supervisors' agenda is a request to identify qualified developers for a supportive housing program for adults with severe mental illness who are homeless or at risk of homelessness. A state housing program created by the Mental Health Services Act has allotted about $1.9 million to the county to develop permanent supportive housing.

The county Department of Health and Human Services' Mental Health Branch is looking for developers with which it can form partnerships.

In another matter, the District Attorney's Office is asking for the formation of a trust fund for a Titlow Hill property related to an ongoing case concerning illegal subdivisions.
As a part of a plea bargain that the District Attorney's Office is offering local lawyer Kenneth Bareilles -- who has pleaded guilty to a felony of unlawful land sales transactions -- the trust would be funded by a $283,000 settlement. Bareilles has not yet accepted the plea deal and is scheduled to appear for a sentencing hearing at the end of January, District Attorney Paul Gallegos said.

The trust funds would be reserved for the correction of the land's ownership issues. Bareilles illegally subdivided his property about 20 years ago. The county has since collected taxes on those parcels.

Gallegos said he is asking the board to approve of the fund in case Bareilles accepts the plea bargain.

”We're asking them to set up the account so that if that happens there's a place for that check to go,” he said.

In closed session, the board will consider the appointment for the personnel director position.

Rocky Point fishing plan slated for discussion

By Melissa Pamer, Torrance Daily Breeze
December 7, 2009

A plan to halt or restrict fishing in 387 square miles of ocean - but leave open the rich, popular waters off the Palos Verdes Peninsula's western face - will be up for a public discussion Wednesday.

The state Fish and Game Commission will receive public comment and officials' reports on a compromise plan that closes some Southern California fishing grounds and leaves others open.

The plan was approved last month at a meeting of the Blue Ribbon Task Force, a panel that is overseeing the lengthy implementation the Marine Life Protection Act. The controversial, 10-year-old law was designed to create a network of marine preserves with the intent of protecting habitat and helping fish populations recover from overfishing.

The commission has final approval over the plan, but no vote is scheduled for Wednesday.

Instead, the panel is expected to ask for an extensive environmental review of the proposed closures. That resulting report and the new regulations will be subject to a final vote sometime next summer at the earliest, a commission official said.

Public comment will be taken from 10:15 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.; speaker cards must be submitted by 10:10 a.m.

The meeting will be held at the Radisson Hotel at Los Angeles Airport, 6225 W. Century Blvd., Los Angeles.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Monterey Peninsula fishermen worry about impact of national marine policies on livelihood

By Gwyneth Dickey, Monterey County Herald
December 7, 2009

Times are tough for Monterey fisherman Pete Bruno. For over a decade, tighter and tighter fishing regulations have slowed his charter fishing boat business to a trickle.
"First, they started lowering our catch limits," Bruno said. "Now, they restrict how deep we can fish."

He says many of his customers no longer want to pay to catch a few little fish, especially in these tough economic times. He's now offering whale-watching tours to pay the bills, but his business is faltering.

"It's devastating," said Bruno, whose grandfather came from Sicily and was a Monterey fisherman. "It's a livelihood taken away."

Fishermen, who already have a fear and loathing for regulation, may now face more. In June, President Barack Obama appointed a 24-member Interagency Ocean Policy Task Force to develop recommendations for a new national policy that aims to improve the management of U.S. waters.

Early next week, the task force will propose a process to help sustain ocean health in the face of a growing number of ocean uses, such as alternative energy, aquaculture, fisheries, oil and gas and recreation — a concept called marine spatial planning.

The goal "is to maximize the economic benefits we get from the oceans in a way that protects ecosystem health," said Aimee David, ocean conservation policy manager at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. "If we allow the marine environment to continue to degrade, we will see a loss of services we get from oceans."

Fishermen aren't sure what marine spatial planning will mean for the Monterey Bay, said Monterey Harbormaster Steve Scheiblauer. And they won't know until a specific proposal is put forth. But he hopes it will create some new fishing opportunities for California fisherman.

"There is a bit of trepidation about it because this poses yet another bunch of significant changes," Scheiblauer said. "There has been such change in the last 15 years or so, and we wince a bit wondering whether this is a new change to try to absorb."

Shrinking fishing territory

It has been a miserable 15 years for both sport and commercial fishermen.

Overfishing of rockfish in the 1980s and '90s led the federal government to establish Rockfish Conservation Areas, temporarily shutting down huge chunks of prime fishing territory on the West Coast so populations could recover. They have been closed for almost 10 years and they are likely to be closed for another 20, Scheiblauer said.

In 1999, the Marine Life Protection Act in California led to the roping off of more rich fishing territory on the Central Coast, restricting or banning fishing in many rocky habitat areas — each the size of the Peninsula — designating them marine protected areas.

With the salmon season closed for the second straight year because of low fish numbers, fishermen are hurting even more.

But fishermen are not to blame for the fish problems, Scheiblauer said.

"This was a management problem," he said. "The scientists and the managers had been telling them they could take more than they really could throughout the 1990s, and they took it."

Some scientific studies show California's fisheries are some of the best managed in the world, added Scheiblauer, who says that the fish are coming back and fishermen want to get back to fishing. He hopes the new marine policy will recognize this and reopen California fisheries for sustainable fishing.

Some area scientists disagree, however. Mark Carr, a marine biologist at Long Marine Lab in Santa Cruz, said fish still need protection for populations to fully recover. He said evidence shows that offshore fish species are returning, but not enough data exists to prove that inshore species, such as kelp greenling and California sheephead, have made a comeback.

"It's not to say they're not managed well," Carr said. "But you can't say that we're managing fisheries well if you don't know how many fish are out there."

Fishermen and scientists don't always agree how much additional data are needed, but they have the same goal — to get fishermen fishing again. In many cases, they're working together to count fish, allowing fishermen to lend their expertise and pick up some extra income.

"One of the most exciting parts is to include the fishermen in that effort," Carr said. "They have developed ways of fishing that allow you to take the fish, measure them, identify them and return them alive into the ocean."

Signs that regulations help

Carr studies the ecosystem effects of marine protected areas, a form of spatial planning. A new, wide-ranging marine spatial planning process could use tools, such as marine protected areas to restore and sustain ecosystem health.

Half of a protected area is open to some fishing, while the adjacent half is closed completely. In that way, scientists can compare fished areas with preserved areas and study the effects of fishing on ecosystems.

Marine Protected Areas "should enhance the rate at which the fisheries come back," Carr said, though he said he knows fishermen are going through a "terrible bottleneck" right now. "The fish populations have got to get back up to a size where these guys can fish them sustainably again."

A new study from Carr's lab shows that protected areas in Mexico successfully restocked surrounding fished areas with shellfish, and the science applies to most finfish as well.

"If you safeguard species in there, they become bigger and there are more of them," said Pete Raimondi, who conducted the research in the northern Gulf of California. "Bigger fish have more babies, so if we give the fish enough protection, we'll see enhanced larval numbers throughout the region and replenish depleted stocks."

But Scheiblauer says that while we're protecting our waters here, Californians are taking and eating fish from other nations that don't fish their waters sustainably.

"We're exporting our issues and exploiting the resources of other nations," he said. "We really missed the mark about careful utilization of the resources we have."

Already, he said, 85 percent of the fish Californians eat is brought in from other countries that may be fishing irresponsibly.

"At some point, the public is going to be surprised that there is so little local caught seafood here for them to eat on the West Coast," Scheiblauer said. "We are in a path of destroying the infrastructure of fishing."

Time is running out

Many fishermen are going out of business, selling their boats and moving out of town. That means less fishing in the Monterey Bay and the possible loss of a long fishing heritage.

"The way it is now, they're family-owned businesses," said Kathy Fosmark, former member of the Pacific Fisheries Management Council, a federal organization that manages federal fisheries in Washington, Idaho, Oregon and California. "Fishermen learn to fish from their fathers before them."

Fosmark, who fishes with her husband out of Moss Landing, fears the fishing culture will be further damaged if the new national policy implements more "catch shares," the practice of divvying up the ocean's harvestable fish into buyable, tradable shares.

She said wealthy stockholders, not fishermen, could buy up these shares and lease them to fishermen at a high cost, taking fishing out of the community.

"You cannot run a fishing business from a boardroom" because stockholders don't understand the nature of fishing, Fosmark said. The shares, she said, need to be kept in the fishing community.

As they face even more regulation, West Coast fishermen are fast becoming a dying breed. Young people can't afford to buy into the business, and won't if there's no money in it, while the older fishermen are retiring.

"What would Monterey be without its fishing culture and heritage?" Scheiblauer asked. "It would wipe out the sense of community, and all the efforts we've had to protect the culture of fishing."

But he doesn't think all hope is lost. New efforts, like off-the-boat fish sales are bringing fishing to the community and increasing public support for local family fishermen, Scheiblauer said.

"I do hope that with increased public and institutional awareness that we can preserve and actually grow the fishing infrastructure, with the emphasis on keeping it sustainable," Scheiblauer said.

North Coast counties are working together on the MLPA

By Patricia Wiggins, Redwood Times
Guest Editorial

The Marine Life Protection Act, passed in 1999, mandates a comprehensive review of existing marine reserves, and, when necessary, allows for the creation of new reserves for marine ecosystem protection. This was a good idea for our state, as well as for the marine life along the nearly 1,100 miles of California coastline.

Now we find ourselves with fast-approaching deadlines for the creation of Marine Protected Areas, and some people are awaiting the outcome with trepidation. They fear the end of their livelihoods, the end of cultural practices, or the hand of “big brother.” And they worry that the largest share of the resource will be set aside for conservation, driven by big environmental groups who seek to protect our coast - whether we want it or not.

The planning process for the North Central Coast Region (Alder Creek near Point Arena to Pigeon Point) is now winding down, while the North Coast Region (Pt. Arena to Oregon border) process is just getting started. And what has been the North Coast Region’s initial response? Rejection, by virtually all stakeholders, of any and all processes controlled from outside the region, particularly from Sacramento. Nothing brings people together like the hand of the state.

I believe there is a strong link between our environmental interests and our commercial and recreational fishing interests, as well as our Native American coastal tribes - we all depend on a clean and well-managed ocean for success. And If the MLPA serves to bring together old antagonists, then surely that’s a good thing.

I am pleased to see indications that our three counties which make up the North Coast Region - Humboldt, Del Norte and Mendocino - are moving in the direction of working together with other key stakeholder groups to develop a science-based “external proposal” specifying the designation of Marine Protected Areas for the coast. The Tri County MLPA working group is the first of its kind to be formed as a response to the implementation of the MLPA process. Hopefully, the counties and their collaborators will be well represented on the regional stakeholder group, so that the external proposal is an on-ramp to a functional process for the whole region.

From the onset of the MLPA process for the coastal regions in the 2nd Senate District, I have been concerned about the people who make their living from, and have long-term cultural ties to, the ocean. Both Native Americans, who are recognized as sovereign nations, and people who fish for their families’ livelihoods, deserve proper recognition in this process. I am adamant that subsistence practices and cultural access to the ocean’s marine resources must be recognized and honored by the MLPA process.

Finally, I think it is very important that any ocean “zoning” recognize other actions in the region. As we determine protected areas, let us also discuss wave energy sites, lease lands for ocean drilling, and the impacts of pipelines and subsurface disturbance, including noise. Any planning efforts for the ocean would be shortsighted if they do not acknowledge current, parallel efforts.

There are a host of wonderful and intelligent people who have volunteered for the MLPA process. Local folks from the coast, including David Hankin from the Humboldt State University Fisheries Department and former Assemblywoman Virginia Strom-Martin, will be representing us in this process on the science advisory team and blue ribbon task force, respectively. Humboldt County Supervisor Jimmy Smith will also serve on the task force.

The outcome of the MLPA is designed to be ecosystem driven. It is those ecosystems that support the communities of the coast and ocean. I have faith that the counties, the tribes, the scientists and your representatives can create something that protects the marine ecosystems, and respects the rights and ways of life of the people of the diverse, wonderful North Coast.

Patricia Wiggins is State Senator for California’s 2nd District, which includes Humboldt and Mendocino Counties.

Friday, December 4, 2009

VAN ZANT: Support Proposal 2 to hinder closures

By George Van Zant, Long Beach Press-Telegram
December 2, 2009

The Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Blue Ribbon Task Force (BRTF) will present its preferred alternative for the creation of marine protected areas (MPAs) in Southern California to the California Fish and Game Commission (FGC) at a joint meeting next Wednesday.

Disregarding the impact that its decision will have on Southern California's coastal communities, the Blue Ribbon Task Force's (BRTF) Integrated Preferred Alternative (IPA) will unnecessarily close vast areas of the South Coast region to recreational fishing.

The Partnership for Sustainable Oceans (PSO), comprised of recreational fishing and boating groups, supports Proposal 2 as the preferred alternative for the South Coast. Proposal 2 places MPAs in locations with a high level of conservation while minimizing the economic impact on local communities and recreational anglers and boaters.

To protect as much recreational fishing opportunity as possible, please send e-mails to the California Fish and Game Commission in support of Proposal 2.

The meeting will be held at: Radisson Hotel - LAX, ABC Ballroom, 6225 W. Century Blvd., Los Angeles, California 90045.

Schwarzenegger's MLPA: Marine Life Guardians or Corporate Privateers?

By Dan Bacher
December 3, 2009

Tom Stienstra, outdoor columnist for the S.F. Chronicle, recently pointed out the absurdity of many of the people that Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger recently appointed to the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Blue Ribbon Task Force (BRTF) for the North Coast by listing the appointees and their "qualifications."

"Sometimes people take issue with political appointments to committees charged with overseeing the state's conservation management," said Stienstra in his column on November 29. "The Department of Fish and Game provided this list of committee members who will implement the Marine Life Protection Act for the Northern California coast.

Catherine Reheis-Boyd, chief operating officer and chief of staff, Western States Petroleum Association; Gregory Schem, president and chief executive officer, Harbor Real Estate Group; Jimmy Smith, chair, Humboldt County Board of Supervisors; Virginia Strom-Martin, advocate, Los Angeles Unified School District; William Anderson, president, Westrec Marina Management; Meg Caldwell, director and senior lecturer on law, Stanford Law School Environment and Natural Resources Law and Policy Program; Roberta Cordero, lawyer, co-founder Chumash Maritime Association; Cindy Gustafson, district general manager, Tahoe City Public Utility District."

I'm one of those people who takes strong issue "with political appointments to committees charged with overseeing the state's conservation management." Upon announcing the appointment of the task force, Mike Chrisman, Natural Resources Secretary, claimed, "This diverse and knowledgeable group, that includes local public leaders, will ensure that all interests are heard as the MLPA planning process moves to the north coast."

However, the exception of Jimmy Smith, a well respected Humboldt County Supervisor, all of the members of this "August body" are people from outside of the region.

Reheis-Boyd is the most controversial of the appointments, since she was on the MLPA panel for the North Coast, in addition to being the chair of the panel for the South Coast MLPA process. She was part of the panel that decided to ban the Kashia Pomo Indian Tribe and other tribes from their traditional areas off Stewarts Point and Point Arena where they have sustainably harvested seaweed, mussels and abalone for centuries. The "oil industry superstar" will become the president of the Western States Petroleum Association in January.

What the heck is an oil industry lobbyist doing on the task force? Political insiders believe that she has been chosen for this position so she can protect the oil industry's interests on the California coast. The oil industry is seeking to open up new areas to oil drilling off the California coast, particularly in the Point Arena Basin. She is apparently on the North Central Coast, North Coast and South Coast Task Forces to make sure that marine protected areas don't impinge upon existing or planned future oil drilling operations off the coast.

Schwarzenegger's choice of William Anderson, president, Westrec Marina Management, is also quite curious. "Focusing on the service side of the marina industry, Westrec is the most comprehensive and authoritative source of marina operating information in the business; handling fuel docks, ship's stores, boat repair and maintenance, commercial leasing, restaurants, campgrounds and lodging facilities," according to Westrec's website,

Just like having an oil industry official on a task force designed to create marine protected areas is an obvious conflict of interest, isn't having a marina operation executive on the panel a conflict of interest? Could Anderson be on the task force to make sure that marine reserves don't impede on marina operation and expansion plans now in the works?

The appointment of Gregory Schem, president and chief executive officer, Harbor Real Estate Group, is also bizarre. Why should a real estate corporation officer be presiding over a supposedly "environmental process? What background does he have in fisheries or "marine protection? to justify his appointment?

A broad coalition of North Coast environmentalists, fishermen, Indian Tribes and seaweed harvesters fear that these corporate officials and political hacks are being appointed to the MLPA Task Force to remove the strongest protectors of fish and the oceans and most ardent opponents of oil drilling from the water to clear the path to the development of offshore oil rigs, marina projects, corporate aquaculture and wave energy projects off the North Coast.

The Governor and Secretary Mike Chrisman excluded California Indian Tribes and environmental justice communities from the MLPA initiative since Schwarzenegger initiated his fast-track MLPA process in 2004. Fortunately, under pressure from the tribes, the Governor finally appointed a member of a California Tribe to the north coast panel, Roberta Cordero from the Chumash Maritime Commission in southern California.

Roberta Cordero is strongly supported by the Yurok Tribe, as well as other North Coast Tribes in sitting on the BRTF. Given her profession, her involvement in the MLPA process in the South Coast, understanding of the role of the BRTF, and the support of her by many Tribal members in the North Coast, the Yurok Tribe backs her appointment and is happy to have her involved as an advocate for Tribes.

The BRTF held its first meeting on Wednesday, Nov. 18 and Thursday, Nov. 19 at the Red Lion Hotel in Eureka. Members of the Yurok Tribe, Wiyot Tribe, Hoopa Valley Tribe, Cher-Ae Heights Indian Community of the Trinidad Rancheria and other North Coast tribes showed in force to criticize the MLPA initiative, a process to date that has not engaged the tribes in government-to-government relations as they are required to do under state and federal law.

The participants in the California Water Tribal Water Summit on November 3-4 took aim at the exclusion of the tribes from the MLPA. “The ocean is the same water; in the Marine Life Protection Act, the California Department of Fish and Game has made an explicit policy decision not to consult with the Tribes,” according to one tribal representative.

Before the summit, the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) at their annual session from October 11-16 in Palm Springs passed a strongly worded resolution blasting the MLPA process for failing to recognize the tribal subsistence, ceremonial and cultural rights of California Indian Tribes.

"The NCAI does hereby support the demand of the tribes of Northern California that the State of California enter into government to government consultations with these tribes; and that the State of California ensure the protection of subsistence, ceremonial and cultural rights in the implementation of the state of Marine Life Protection Act," the resolution stated.

The MLPA, passed by the Legislature in 1999, has under Schwarzenegger become an surrealistic parody of "marine protection." The MLPA has done nothing to stop pollution and habitat destruction on the ocean, but only aims to further restrict sustainable fishermen and seaweed harvesters on the most heavily restricted stretch of ocean waters on the entire planet, even though a June 31 study in Science magazine revealed that the California current features the least exploited and most restored marine ecosystem population of any place studied!

"These MPAs do nothing to keep the ocean healthy, they do nothing to improve water quality," summed up Vern Goehring of the California Fisheries Coalition.

Even worse, the corrupt MLPA process under Schwarzenegger is funded by the Resource Legacy Fund Foundation (RLFF), a shadowy organization supplied with millions and millions of dollars every year through the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, David and Lucille Packard Foundation and other corporate entities. The foundation heavily funds the corporate environmental NGOs that are pushing so hard for their way in the MLPA process.

At the same time, many of these NGOs backed the water policy/bond package that clears the path to the construction of a peripheral canal and more dams that will result in the destruction of the California Delta ecosystem. While MLPA proponents are pushing for more redundant restrictions on North Coast coastal fishing communities, they apparently made a deal with the Governor and Legislators to back legislation that will seal the doom of collapsing Central Valley salmon, Delta smelt, longfin smelt, green sturgeon, striped bass and other fish populations. What is going on here?

The conflicts of interest and corruption of the democratic process that run rampant in the MLPA initiative, the California legislative process and the Governor's campaign to build a peripheral canal and more dams were prophesized by Thomas Jefferson in 1782.

"We should look forward to a time, and that not a distant one, when corruption in this as in the country from which we derive our origin will have seized the heads of government and be spread by them through the body of the people; when they will purchase the voices of the people and make them pay the price," said Jefferson in his Notes on Virginia.

Marine Protection Option for South Coast Finally Goes to DFG

Task Force Recommendations Are Usually Followed But Contentiousness Is Anticipated

By Suzanne Guldimann, Malibu Surfside News
December 3, 2009

After months of discussion and debate and an unexpected extra session in November, the Marine Life Protection Act South Coast Region Blue Ribbon Task Force will present its final proposal next week for a series of Marine Protected Areas planned for the Southern California Coast to the California Department of Fish and Game, the agency overseeing the state-mandated MPA process. Time for public input has been scheduled for the Dec. 8 meeting.

On Nov. 10, the BRTF unanimously approved a motion to forward the MLPA South Coast Integrated Preferred Alternative marine protected area proposal as the selection for the study region. The preferred alternative includes both a State Marine Reserve and a State Conservation Area in west Malibu. The SMR, an area with the highest level of protection that would prohibit all fishing activities, would extend from the western end of Paradise Cove to the outflow of Zuma Creek.

“This stretch of coast encompasses some of the most diverse habitats in Los Angeles County, including an upwelling zone, submarine canyon habitat, unique spur and groove reef structures, extensive kelp, and diverse understory algal habitat,” states the Marine Protected Area description. “This is also an area of high species diversity. There is long-term monitoring and research opportunities in this area.”

The proposed SMCA would extend from Zuma Creek to the western end of El Matador Beach. This area would allow the recreational take of pelagic finfish, Pacific bonito and white sea bass, as well as commercial take of coastal pelagic finfish, market squid and swordfish. All other fishing would be prohibited.

A Chumash co-managed SMCA proposed for Nicholas Beach, where the Wishtoyo Foundation’s Chumash Demonstration Village is located, was tabled earlier in the process, but the preferred alternative leaves the door open for Chumash participation at the Point Dume MPA.

“This is also an area that plays a significant role in Chumash maritime culture, it is ideally suited for tribal co-management to promote education and outreach, marine stewardship, and Chumash maritime cultural preservation and revitalization,” the report states.

The preferred alternative includes a recommendation made by the stakeholders group that “DFG explore establishing Chumash co- management for this SMCA/SMR complex. Chumash government and non- government entities will seek to formulate [memos of understanding] with appropriate State departments, e.g., Fish and Game and Parks and Recreation for education and outreach, marine stewardship, and Chumash cultural preservation.”

The preferred alternative also includes a recommendation encouraging “a formal naming process, which both the parks commission and the fish and game commission have for exploring the use of Native American names…” although it concludes that “it is beyond the mission of the BRTF to engage in that naming process.”

According to Chumash representative and Wishtoyo Foundation founder and executive director Mati Waiya, Point Dume was once an important shrine site for the Chumash. Although the Chumash name is lost, the area still yields archeological evidence of thousands of years of Chumash presence.

The BRTF is also recommending that MOUs be used “among the various enforcement and managerial agencies, both those that are already exist in this entire region, with the departments of Fish and Game and State Parks; there is incredible potential there. It has been shown to work in the Channel Islands and there is good will and experience here in this region.”

In addition to the preferred alternative, the final three stakeholder proposals will also be submitted to the DFG, although in the two previous regions to undergo the MPLA process, the DFG accepted the BRTF recommendations with few changes.

The meeting will take place on Dec. 8, at the Radisson Hotel at Los Angeles Airport 6225 West Century Blvd. Public comment will commence at 10 a.m. More information is available at