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Will New Ocean Reserves Become 'Marine Poaching Areas?'

Proponents of Arnold Schwarzenegger's Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative constantly proclaim that the controversial process to create a network of “marine protected areas” (MPAs) in California marine waters is "open, transparent and inclusive" and based on "science."

Unfortunately, MLPA advocates fail to ask California’s game wardens, the ones who actually have to enforce the Fish and Game laws, what they think about these glorious new "ocean parks."

Jerry Karnow, the president of the California Fish and Game Wardens Association, has repeatedly criticized the Fish and Game Commission for approving the creation of new marine protected areas to be enforced by a Department that already has lowest ratio of wardens to residents of any state in the nation. He has frequently noted how many wardens consider the new MPAs to be "marine poaching areas" because of the lack of personnel for enforcement.

In a letter to Mr. Tom Napoli, MLPA South Coast CEQA, Department of Fish and Game, on October 18, 2010, Karnow was blunt about the impact the creation of new MPAs would have on the wardens.

“Establishing additional MPAs without sufficient enforcement will invite poaching and other lawless behavior and endanger the safety of game wardens and will, eventually, lead to the onduty injury or death of a warden,” stated Karnow.

“The California Fish and Game Wardens' Association represents the interests and concerns of fish and game wardens throughout California who are charged with enforcing California's laws and regulations regarding hunting and fishing,” Karnow explained. “As the public servants who serve at the front lines of enforcement, our members understand what is required to enforce the fish and game laws effectively, and in particular what it takes to enforce restrictions that are imposed when the Fish & Game Commission designates a segment of the waters of the Pacific Ocean as a Marine Protected Area (MPA).”

“Regardless of how these MPAs are designed, there is no substitute for rigorous on-site enforcement by Department of Fish and Game (Department) staff if the MPAs are to have their intended effect on species and habitat restoration or preservation,” he emphasized. “Regarding the adoption of additional MPAs under the Marine Life Protection Act, please note that the Department cannot police the restrictions that already exist. Addition of new restrictions in the South Coast (or elsewhere), without a significant increase in the enforcement budget, will make effective enforcement impossible."

He noted that sufficient funding for enforcement of these new reserves has not been identified in the state budget - nor elsewhere.

“The source of funding for necessary additional enforcement resources is not identified in the Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) for the South Coast Marine Protected Areas Project. We believe the DEIR is silent about this issue because there is no such source of funding," Karnow stated.

The failure of the MLPA Initiative to find funding for enforcement is just one of a multitude of flaws in the process, funded by the shadowy Resources Legacy Fund Foundation through a MOU with the Department of Fish and Game.

Critics of the initiative point out that the MLPA Initiative actually eviscerates the original law, the Marine Life Protection Act of 1999, that aimed to create a network of “marine protected areas” in California marine waters. They charge that the marine reserves created fail to protect the ocean from oil drilling and spills, water pollution, military testing, wave and wind energy projects, habitat destruction and all other human impacts on the ocean other than fishing and gathering.

Initiative critics, including grassroots environmentalists, fishermen, Indian tribal members and seaweed harvesters, also point to the numerous conflicts of interests in the implementation of the initiative by oil industry, agribusiness, real estate, marina development and other operatives. They have also documented the initiative’s violation of numerous state, federal and international laws including the Bagley-Keene Open Meetings Act, California Administrative Procedures Act, American Indian Religious Freedom Act and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

There is considerable controversy about when the new "marine protected areas" on the Southern California Coast will go into effect, if ever. (

For more information about MLPA Initiative conflicts of interest, go to David Gurney's superb blog,