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Senate Majority Leader Calls for Oversight Hearing on MLPA Process

by Dan Bacher, editor of the Fish Sniffer
April 12, 2009 -- Dean Florez (D-Shafter), the California Senate Majority Leader, said he will conduct a Senate Oversight Hearing this year about conflict of interest and “mission creep” in the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) process during his keynote Address at the Coastside fishing Club Dinner in San Mateo on March 27.
He said that he and other Senators plan to ask some “very tough” questions of Resources Secretary Mike Chrisman and Mike Sutton, Fish and Game Commission member, about the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) process. These questions include why the MLPA has been expanded from a $250,000 process to a $35 million fiasco that is threatening the economy and fisheries on the North Central Coast.
“I’ve found that when you call a hearing, things get fixed really quickly,” said Florez. “For example, when we announced a hearing in response to complaints about EDD’s processing of unemployment claims, the department changed its operations, including opening on weekends. Imagine what will happen will happened when we hold a hearing on the MLPA process.”
He emphasized that the Senators had a lot of questions for Mike Sutton including asking, “Who do you work for?”
Many recreational and commercial fishermen and grassroots environmentalists believe that it’s wrong for Sutton to make decisions about the MLPA when Julie Packard’s Monterey Bay Aquarium employs him. The Aquarium is funded by the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, as is the MLPA process.
“We believe in transparency and the Legislature was told that science would guide the MPLA process,” said Florez. “I believe that plain, old fashioned oversight will turn this situation around.”
He said that the funding of the MLPA by a private entity, the Resource Legacy Foundation, “really has to be looked at.”
“We have to look at all of the relationships,” said Florez. “Nobody thought the MLPA would become a process where the coast is closed first and the science is done later. Politics, not policy, have led this issue. I believe that your cause is right.”
He urged anglers to write letters about their concerns and to attend the hearings when they are announced. “If one-quarter of the people in this room went to the hearing, we would have every Senator there,” Florez emphasized. “What changes policy are the people who show up. The people who show up win!”
He said that he would come to the dinner next year, get back on stage and inform Coastside membership how “far we got” in addressing the inequities in the MLPA. In the meantime, he urged anglers to send him letters about their concerns with the MLPA at dflorez [at] yahoo.com.
“MPAs can have a place,” said Gordon Robertson, vice-president of the American Sportfishing Association, who spoke after Florez, “but they must be steeped in science. The MLPA has to be a public process with no hidden agenda.”
During the dinner, Coastside founder Bob Franko presented a $14,000 check to the San Francisco Tyee Club, founded in 1938, for their years of work on behalf of restoring salmon. The group raises Chinook salmon in pens for release into San Francisco Bay.
“This is our best year ever, with 85,000 fish to be released,” said Brook Halsey of the San Francisco Tyee Foundation. “Up until now we have released 60,000 fish in grow-out pens every year.“
Note: Although Senator Florez' call for an investigation into the MLPA process is very good news, his recently introduced $15 billion water bond bill, SB 301, must be opposed because it would fund "conveyance" - a peripheral canal - and more dams.
Grassroots Enviros, Fishermen Protest MLPA Greenwashing at Fisheries Forum
The MLPA greenwashing process was the most contentious issue during the Joint Legislative Committee on Fisheries & Aquaculture, chaired by State Senator Patricia Wiggins (D – Santa Rosa) on March 26, at the State Capitol.
The forum took place while California's fish populations are in their greatest crisis ever. Central Valley Chinook salmon, delta smelt, longfin smelt, green sturgeon and other fish populations have declined to record low population levels, largely due to policies pursued by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who portrays himself as the “Green Governor" and has promoted the peripheral canal and no fishing zones as the "solutions" to collapsing fisheries. It is no coincidence that the same guy, Phil Isenburg, was the chair of both Schwarzenegger's MLPA Blue Ribbon Task Force and the Delta Vision Task Force.
Ken Wiseman, executive director of the MLPA Initiative, Cindy Gustafson, Chair of the Fish and Game Commission and Kaitilin Gaffney of the Ocean Conservancy all gushed about Schwarzenegger’s MLPA process as supposedly being “open and transparent.”
However, the real environmentalists in the room – as opposed to some corporate-funded "environmental" groups that support massive fishery closures – ripped the process for being an out-of control process that lacked any form of accountability to the public and the Legislature.
Jim Martin, West Coast Regional Director of the Recreational Fishing Alliance, in blistering testimony, slammed the MLPA process for causing disproportionate economic impacts to Point Arena, proposing regulations far exceeding the funding available and for using private funding has biased the process and circumvents the Legislature’s oversight. He urged the Committee to restore the role of the Department of Fish and Game, abolish the Blue Ribbon Task Force and to amend the MLPA.
“The legislation you passed in 1999 was not supposed to be a financial disaster for coastal communities,” Martin said. “It was not supposed to close 40% of the best fishing grounds. It was not supposed to threaten the $1.3 billion dollar saltwater recreational fishery or the $130 million commercial fishery. It was not supposed to cost California thousands of jobs."
“It was not supposed to cost $400 million in the next ten years, and on into eternity,” he continued. “It was not supposed to cut off so much shore-based access that it threatens to destroy the $10 million abalone fishery. Finally, it was not supposed to be a biased process that ignores the social and financial losses to fishing communities, or assume that endless amounts of bag money will be available to fund this experiment.”
John Lewallen, longtime North Coast environmentalist and sustainable seaweed harvester, and others testified how the proposed fishing closures would devastate a coastal economy already ripped apart by salmon and rockfish season closures. He also urged the Committee to investigate conflict of interest in the MLPA process. Lewallen described the whole MLPA process as a “divide and drill” strategy where the only winners are oil companies who want to drill for oil off Point Arena.
"Why is Catherine Reheis-Boyd, CEO and Chief of Staff for the Western States Petroleum Association, a key member of the five-member MLPA Blue Ribbon Task Force that has decreed new zones where people can take no food from state waters?," asked Lewallen. "Is it coincidence that the Point Arena Basin offshore from Point Arena is the area of highest oil industry interest in Northern California, and the only tract here now open to Minerals Management Service offshore oil leasing process?"
Assemblyman Wes Chesbro agreed with the concerns posed by Martin, Lewallen and others. “I’m skeptical of this process,” he said. “I’ve spent my whole time defending the North Coast and the people who are most impacted by the marine protected areas do more to restore the environment than anybody. I worry what will happen when the people who do the most to protect our fisheries and environment are gone.”
Chesbro said he had been part of earlier efforts directed by the Fish and Game Commission to set up the no-take zones required by the 1999 Marine Life Protection Act. Chesbro also stated that the marine science required to back the need for no-take zones was questionable or absent, so the process had been abandoned.
“Now you propose to close areas to seaweed harvest, affecting the livelihood of a seaweed harvesting couple,” Assemblyman Chesbro told the advocates of the "Integrated Preferred Alternative." “All I’m saying is, show me the science.”
People wishing to contact the Legislative Fisheries Committee with relevant information or your opinion can send your comments to:
Senator Patricia Wiggins, http://dist02.casen.govoffice.com/ or write State Capitol, Room 4081 Sacramento, CA 95814 916-323-6958
Assemblyman Wes Chesbro at: http://democrats.assembly.ca.gov/members/a01/ or write State Capitol P.O. Box 942849, Sacramento, CA 94249-0001 916-319-2001