Skip to main content

Commission Adopts Unified MLPA Proposal Amidst Charges of Secret Meetings

Commission Adopts Unified MLPA Proposal Amidst Charges of Secret Meetings

The California Fish and Game Commission, during a joint hearing with the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Blue Ribbon Task Force for the North Coast in Sacramento on February 2, adopted the unified proposal crafted by local recreational anglers, commercial fishermen, environmentalists and business owners.

The proposal would create marine protected areas in approximately 13 percent of the North Coast state's waters. It was the first MLPA proposal to acknowledge tribal gathering rights on the ocean since Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger privatized the MLPA process in 2004.

Michael Sutton, Fish and Game Commissioner, made the following motion, supported by Commissioners Dan Richards, Jim Kellogg, Jack Baylis and Richard Rogers.

"The Fish and Game Commission, consistent with the direction we received this morning from Secretary Laird, requests staff to work closely with the MLPA Initiative and Department of Fish and Game to:

1. Develop a revised MPA network proposal for the North Coast Study Region, based on and consistent with the Unified North Coast proposal from the RSG and BRTF, that accommodates the stakeholders' expressed intent to allow for traditional, non-commercial subsistence, ceremonial, cultural and stewardship uses by Tribal people;

2. Bring that revised proposal to the April Commission meeting so that we can adopt a preferred alternative and move forward with both the CEQA and regulatory processes;

3. In developing this revised proposal, address to the extent practicable, the shortcomings identified in the Department's Feasibility Evaluation dated January14, 2011."

Telling members of the California Fish and Game Commission "the North Coast Unified Plan is unprecedented and deserves to be supported," First District Assemblymember Wesley Chesbro (D-Arcata) testified in support of the local unified proposal.

"The North Coast Regional Stakeholders Group accomplished what no other region has been able to do - generate a single Unified Array proposal," Chesbro said. "The Unified Array is an unprecedented accomplishment and provides a wonderful opportunity for this Commission to also act in unity. On behalf of the overwhelming consensus on the North Coast, I urge you to support our community's request."

Yurok Chair Says Tribe Doesn't Endorse Proposal, But Accepts It

Chesbro also told Commissioners that additional concessions must be made to protect the traditional fishing and gathering rights of North Coast tribes.

"These tribes are willing to work with you to administratively resolve these issues in order to provide support for the Unified Array," Chesbro said.

The Yurok and other North Coast Tribes did not endorse the proposal, but accepted it, providing that the state formally acknowledges the sovereign rights of Tribes to gather along the coast as they have done from thousands of years.

"There is no evidence that tribes have had a negative impact upon the ecosystem," said Thomas O'Rourke, Chair of the Yurok Tribal Council. "They have been part of the ecosystem since time immemorial. Science needs to recognize people as part of the ecosystem. If you don't include people, the proposal will fail. Our rights are not negotiable."

He emphasized, "The Tribe doesn't endorse the unified proposal, but it accepts the proposal."

"Nothing is final until it's final," O'Rourke said after the meeting, in responding to the Commission's decision to move the unified proposal forward. "We are as comfortable as we can be in this stage of the process."

In reference to the recent lawsuit filed by United Anglers of Southern California, Coastside Fishing Club and Bob Fletcher against the MLPA Initiative, O'Rourke stated, "If the state doesn't listen to us and tries to impose regulations on the Tribes, the fishermen's lawsuit is possibly one of many they will have to deal with."

Tribal members indicated they were willing to engage in civil disobedience if tribal rights weren't protected. "When grandma wants mussels, it will take a lot more than Wild Justice to prevent me from doing this," quipped Sammy Gensaw Jr., Yurok Tribal Member.

Option Zero Supporters Felt Short-Changed

The Commission also heard from supporters of Option Zero, who felt short changed because they were only given one minute each to comment at the end of the public comment period. This was done in spite of a letter from Assemblymember Wesley Chesbro and Senator Noreen Evans urging the Commission to "allow for a briefing from Option Zero supporters."

Tomas DiFiore, longtime North Coast environmentalist, asked to be read into the record supporting statements for Option Zero and the CEQA Analysis, supported by 1200 signatures, to be considered by the Commission.

"Option Zero is an opportunity for the North Coast to develop an alternative plan that reflects the knowledge base and commitment to conservation and use of marine resources of North Coast communities and produce a timely, well informed consensus plan to bring back to the Fish & Game Commission and the MLPA Initiative process," he stated.

Option Zero proponents, including environmentalists, recreational anglers, and commercial fishermen, support managing fisheries on the North Coast through existing regulations - and criticize the MLPA process for setting up marine protected areas that fail to protect the ocean from water pollution, oil spills and drilling, military testing, wave energy projects and all other uses of the ocean other than fishing and gathering.

MLPA critics also slam the process for its many conflicts of interest, including the domination of the MLPA Blue Ribbon Task Forces by oil industry, real estate, marina development and other corporate interests.

The MLPA process was privatized in 2004 when Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger directed the shadowy Resources Legacy Fund Foundation, a private corporation that North Coast environmental leader John Stephens-Lewallen described as a "money laundering operation for corporations," to fund the controversial process through a Memorandum of Understanding with the Department of Fish and Game.

Since then, the MLPA Initiative has violated numerous state, federal and international laws, including the Bagley-Keene Open Meetings Act, the California Public Records Act, the State Administrative Procedure Act, the American Indian Religious Freedom Act, and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Illegal Private Meetings of MLPA Exposed

During the public comment period, George Osborn, spokesman for the Partnership for Sustainable Oceans (PSO), presented a 25 page document documenting illegal private, non-public meetings of Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative officials to the Commission.

The Coastside Fishing Club, United Anglers of Southern California and Bob Fletcher filed suit in San Diego Superior Court in late January, seeking to overturn South Coast and North Central Coast MLPA closures, alleging violations of the State Administrative Procedure Act.

During his brief public testimony, Osborn exposed the corruption and violations of law by the MLPA's Blue Ribbon Task Force (

"After reviewing the documents turned over to us, which previously the BRTF had improperly withheld from the public, we now have evidence, indicating that the public meetings of the BRTF have been an elaborately staged Kabuki performance, choreographed and rehearsed down to the last detail, even to the crafting of motions, in scheduled private meetings held before the so-called public meetings of the BRTF," said Osborn. "Clearly, this has not been the most open and transparent process, as it has so often been described."

"The BRTF's behavior taints the regulations that are the end product of its work, and these regulations must be reversed," he emphasized. "The PSO respectfully requests that the Commission begin the process to un-do these wrongs committed against California's recreational anglers and all Californians, see that the MLPA is implemented properly, and reverse actions that unnecessarily close areas to fishing."

"Let's work with Governor Brown and direct California's meager resources to solve real problems that harm the ocean we love," he concluded.

Commissioner Dan Richards asked Osborn for proof about the secret meetings that PSO has accused the privately funded MLPA Blue Ribbon Task Force of conducting.

Osborn then submitted to the Commissioners the copies of emails and correspondence by MLPA officials documenting private, non-public meetings. Secret meetings of the Blue Ribbon Task Force were held in April 2007 and on November 3, 2008, December 10, 2008, February 25, 2009, October 20, 21 and 22, 2009.

The documents included correspondence by Ken Wiseman, MLPA executive director, Don Benninghoven, former Fish and Game Commissoner, Melissa Miller-Henson, program manager of the MLPA Initiative, Meg Caldwell, BRTF member and others.

The documents also include the email by Fort Bragg City Council member Jere Melo on November 5, 2009, regarding his resignation from the MLPA Statewide Interest Group (SIG) for its failure to obey state laws.

"I cannot continue on a body that advertises its functions as 'public' and then provides very little or no public notice of its meetings," said Melo. "There is a real ethics question for a person who holds a public office."