Yesterday, I went to the Blue Ribbon Task Force hearing on the latest controversy under the Southern California deliberations of the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA). About 400 people attended the meeting at the LAX Airport Sheraton to battle it out on the issue of retaining a marine conservation proposal among the seven draft maps which currently exist in the negotiation process.
About 350 of the 400 people were sport or commercial fishermen. They were all wearing black, reminiscence of an afternoon in the Black Hole at a Raiders’ game. Many wore MLPA shirts on which the acronym was spelled out as “Means Less Public Access.” I have to give props to the fishermen for their passion and their numbers.
As the Blue Ribbon circus proceeded, I was struck by the fact that the fishermen should be our greatest allies on these issues. In Northern California, the fishing community has partnered with the environmental community to save the salmon. However, in Southern California, the fishing community has been conspicuously absent on such issues as power plant once through cooling, desalination, wetland preservation and restoration, sewage discharges and polluted runoff. The fishing community benefits dramatically by reducing pollution sources and reducing the extraction of ocean water. If the fishing community weighed in on these issues, they would be a powerful force.
The black shirts won yesterday by getting the Blue Ribbon task Force to kill the conservation proposal. The MLPA leadership flip-flopped on this issue a couple of times before the task force vote. The outcome didn’t upset me as much as the realization that the fishing and environmental communities were adversaries despite the fact that we both want healthy, clean and productive coastal marine waters and ecosystems.
Over the last seven years, Heal the Bay has educated over 70,000 pier anglers on the health risks of eating DDT and PCB contaminated fish. Clearly, we have a long history of working with the fishing community on an environmental issue. Unfortunately, that history hasn’t meant much in the MLPA process so far.
Now that the conservation proposal is gone, there are six alternatives left and four of them are nearly identical and protect minimal areas of lower quality habitat. These proposals go to the Scientific Advisory Team who will evaluate them and find that none of them meet their criteria for an ecosystem-based management approach to MPAs or even the minimal biological and ecological goals of the Act itself. That puts the scientists in a difficult position to come up with comments and recommendations.
The next few months will continue to be contentious. MLPA leadership acknowledged that the negotiations process needs to improve dramatically to achieve success. We’ll see if they provide the management leadership to make this happen.
Personally, I’m skeptical about the chances of a successful negotiation unless the environmental community, divers, academics, resource managers, and low intensity sportfishermen (spearfishing, kayak fishing, shore anglers) get on the same page.