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Group Says Southern California's Coastal Waters Are Still Open

Group Says Southern California's Coastal Waters Are Still Open

by Dan Bacher

Recreational fishing groups and the Department of Fish and Game (DFG) disagree over when controversial new regulations to create "marine protected areas" on the South Coast, adopted by the California Fish and Game Commission in December as part of the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative, will go into effect.

The DFG has issued conflicting information on when the reserves will go into effect, creating great confusion among anglers. The Department's Ocean Sport Fishing Regulations booklet, posted March 1, 2011, erroneously states on page 59, "New Southern California marine protected areas will go into effect this spring."

At the same time, the Department's website,, currently states that the south coast MPA regulations "are anticipated to go into effect in mid 2011" (not spring 2011) "after appropriate filings with the Office of Administrative Law and the Secretary of State."

To make things even more confusing, California Department of Fish and Game personnel stated during the May 4-5, 2011 California Fish and Game Commission meeting that regulations will go into effect in fall 2011 at the earliest.

During the same meeting, Fish and Game Commissioner Richard Rogers, an appointee of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, added to the confusion by proclaiming that anglers should currently abide by the MLPA regulations, even though the regulatory process hadn't been completed!

Groups challenge DFG on confusing, erroneous information

On the other hand, a coalition of recreational fishing groups now engaged in a multi-tiered lawsuit against the MLPA Initiative say the new regulations "will not go into effect until later this year, if ever."

A letter from the coalition to John McCamman, Director of the California Department of Fish and Game, on May 6, 2011 attempted to clarify the situation about when the reserves would actually go into effect - and requested the DFG to stop promulgating erroneous information to the public.

"The Partnership for Sustainable Oceans (PSO), which collectively represents nearly one million individual recreational anglers and boaters through its combined membership organizations, has noted considerable confusion among the general public as to when the South Coast Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) regulations will go into place," the letter stated.

"We have heard from numerous anglers that are under the mistaken impression that the MPAs have already gone into effect. We believe this misconception has been fueled in part by the lack of accurate information coming from the Department of Fish and Game, including on its website, and the 2011-2012 Ocean Sport Fishing regulations which erroneously proclaims that the MPAs will go into effect in the spring of 2011," the letter continued.

The group pointed out that in order for the MLPA regulations to go into effect, a regulatory package must first be prepared and submitted to the Office of Administrative Law (OAL), which has 30 days to review the package. "Not until the package is finally delivered to the Secretary of State do the regulations legally go into effect," the letter stated.

"It is particularly troubling to the PSO that the Department believes anglers should currently be abiding by the regulations, as was stated by Department representatives during the May, 2011 California Fish and Game Commission meeting. The Department should not suggest that anyone abide by tentative regulations that have yet to be submitted to the OAL for the statutorily required review, let alone approved and passed to the Secretary of State," the groups said.

The letter also noted that MLPA regulations are currently being challenged in the courts - and asked the Department of Fish and Game to "refrain from the distribution of misleading and false information and remediate its past distribution of misinformation."

"The Department should immediately take all prudent steps to inform the general public that they are still free to enjoy California's healthy marine fisheries. If and when the MLPA regulations acquire the force of law, then the Department may begin to encourage compliance," the letter concluded.

The letter was signed by Dave Elm, Chairman, United Anglers of Southern California; Ken Franke, President, Sportfishing Association of California; Paul Lebowitz, President, Kayak Fishing Association of California; Mike Leonard, Director of Ocean Resource Policy, American Sportfishing Association; Terry Maas, Watermen's Alliance; and Dan Wolford, Science Director, Coastside Fishing Club.

DFG must follow state law

Representatives of recreational fishing organizations emphasize that South Coast marine waters are still open to fishing under the current fishing regulations, since the 36 new marine protected areas located from Santa Barbara to the California/Mexico border have not yet gone through the required procedures to become law.

Bob Fletcher, former president of the Sportfishing Association of California, said, "In talking with numerous anglers, I've noticed that there is considerable confusion about whether or not these areas of the ocean are still open to recreational fishing. On behalf of the Partnership for Sustainable Oceans, I'd like Southern California's anglers, and the tens-of-thousands more who come to this region to fish each year, to know they are still free to pursue our state's healthy marine fisheries."

"Whether intentional or not, the Department of Fish and Game has done an extremely poor job in telling anglers when the South Coast regulations will go into effect," continued Fletcher. "This lack of communication is causing anglers to unnecessarily stay off the water for fear that the regulations are already in place."

Fletcher pointed out, "During the May Fish and Game Commission meeting, Commissioner Richard Rogers was so brash as to proclaim that anglers should currently abide by the MLPA regulations, notwithstanding the Department's failure to complete the required regulatory process. The regulations have no legal effect until then."

He contrasted Roger's stance with that of fellow Commissioners Jim Kellogg and Dan Richards, who have seriously weighed the huge economic burden that the MLPA will place on businesses and the state. "Now is the time for Governor Brown to replace Rogers with a more sensible and objective Commissioner," said Fletcher.

On January 27, 2011, United Anglers of Southern California, Coastside Fishing Club and Bob Fletcher filed a lawsuit in the San Diego County Superior Court seeking to set aside the MLPA regulations for the North Central and South Coast study regions.

The lawsuit cites "a lack of statutory authority" for the Fish and Game Commission to adopt the regulations, and, in the case of the South Coast regulations, numerous violations of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), in the commission's environmental review of the regulations.

Mixed messages from the DFG over fishing regulations have been a persistent problem in recent years, doing a real disservice to conservation-minded anglers who want to abide by the law.

A similar problem occurred last year when the DFG website said that the controversial North Central Coast marine protected areas would go effect "in the spring," which could mean any day from the beginning of spring in March to the end of spring in June. Later, the DFG, under pressure from anglers, in a press release clarified that the new MLPA Initiative "marine protected areas" would go into effect on May 1, 2010.

"Although anglers can still fish throughout most of southern California's coastal waters, it may not be this way for long," emphasized John Riordan of United Anglers of Southern California. "I encourage all anglers, and anyone who supports public access to public resources, to help us fight the flawed MLPA process in the courts by visiting and making a donation today."

In a bizarre case of corporate greenwashing, the South Coast MLPA Blue Ribbon Task Force that oversaw the creation of marine protected areas was chaired by Catherine Reheis-Boyd, president of the Western States Petroleum Association, an advocate of new offshore drilling off the California coast. This disturbing fact alone demonstrates that the MLPA Initiative has nothing to do with true ocean protection.

Commission adopts North Coast marine reserves; tribal issues still not resolved

On California's North Coast, opposition to the Marine Life Protection Act Initiative spurred the creation of the largest political movement on the North Coast since the Redwood Summer of 1990. On July 21, 2010, 300 people including members of over 50 Indian Nations, immigrant seafood industry workers, commercial fishermen, recreational anglers, environmental justice activists, community activists and political candidates peacefully took over the MLPA Blue Ribbon Task Force meeting to protest the violation of tribal gathering rights under the MLPA Initiative.

Because of this and a previous direct action at a Science Advisory Team meeting by North Coast Tribal members, organized by the Coastal Justice Coalition, the MLPA Regional Stakeholders Group was pressured to adopt a single marine protected area proposal that included provisions protecting tribal gathering rights for the first time ever. This proposal was adopted by the MLPA North Coast Blue Ribbon Task Force and the California Fish and Game Commission on February 2 of this year.

Numerous fishermen and environmentalists, including the Ocean Protection Coalition of Mendocino County, also supported "Option Zero" - an option that would essentially leave the existing North Coast fishing regulations, the most restrictive anywhere on the planet, intact.

In a positive development, the Yurok and other Tribes have recently held meetings with Natural Resources Secretary John Laird to resolve the problem of Tribal access to traditional gathering areas, but nothing definitive has been decided yet.

"A long-awaited decision on Marine Protected Areas along the North Coast will likely be chosen by the California Fish and Game Commission at its next meeting," according to Anthony Skeens in his article, "MPA decision expected soon," in the Crescent City Daily Triplicate on May 10. "A Fish and Game staff recommendation was expected during the commission’s meeting last week in Ontario, but officials are still negotiating with tribes to develop a solution to preserve their uses while still maintaining a higher level of protection. A recommendation from the Department of Fish and Game staff for the proposal is now expected by the end of May." (

Tribal scientists excluded from MLPA process

At the same time, it is crucial to point out that the MLPA process, privatized by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2004, failed to appoint any Tribal representatives to the MLPA Blue Ribbon Task Force until 2010! In a clear case of institutional racism, MLPA officials refused appoint any Tribal scientists to the so-called "Science Advisory Team" (SAT) that oversees the creation of marine protected areas.

“The MLPA process completely disregards tribal gathering rights and only permits discussion of commercial and recreational harvest. The whole process is inherently flawed by institutionalized racism. It doesn’t recognize Tribes as political entities, or Tribal biologists as legitimate scientists,” said Frankie Myers, Yurok Tribal member and Coastal Justice Coalition activist on July 21.

“We should have had better immigration laws,” tribal citizen and Air Force Veteran Wally Obie told the Blue Ribbon Task Force during the direct action on July 21. “That’s not funny.” (

Critics charge that Schwarzenegger's MLPA Initiative eviscerates the historic law, the Marine Life Protection Act, signed by Governor Gray Davis in 1999. The Initiative, a classic case of corporate greenwashing, fails to protect the ocean from water pollution, oil drilling and spills, military testing, habitat destruction, wave energy projects and other uses of the ocean other than fishing and gathering. A big oil industry lobbyist, real estate executive, marina developer and other corporate operatives with numerous conflicts of interest oversaw the process that created these so-called "marine protected areas."

The Resources Legacy Fund Foundation, a shadowy group that serves as a "money laundering operation for corporations," according to respected North Coast environmental leader John Lewallen, funded the process through a MOU with the California Department of Fish and Game.

For regular updates and analysis on the MLPA Initative and other ocean issues, go to David Gurney's excellent website: