Strange Adversaries

mlpa2_adjustedYesterday, 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.

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4 Responses

  1. “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.”

    Mark, this is something many fishermen are concerned about and we’re wondering why these issues haven’t been more aggressively pursued, either (along with better regulations enforcement–I’m tired of these damned poachers). Many of us are conservationists–we spend time on the waters in awe of Mother Nature and with respect for her. Yes, this is something that we all need to address.

    I think one problem with this whole process is that the MLPA only focuses on the closures and doesn’t address these other issues you’ve mentioned. I realize that’s the specific purpose for the MLPA, but to the public that’s all they see and hear–their fishing areas are being taken away and there’s no big picture being considered. So when a spearfishermen makes the statement that runoff has a much greater impact on the kelp forest than the small number of guys who fish that area, and then the board says, “that’s not the purpose of this hearig”, you can understand why the fishing community might be up in arms. The fishing community is just a small percentage of entire SoCal population (with spear, kayak, and shore being penalized the most even though they’re just a small fraction)… imagine if we put as much energy into controlling runoff of which the whole of SoCal contributes to.

    Another thing is that the fishing community is very wary that the areas being proposed are mostly in the “backyards” of the wealthy. We’re also aware that many of these people are the ones who help fund the MLPA. Can you honestly say there aren’t any ulterior motives here? Never mind that they produce the most waste per capita… Classic NIMBY syndrome.

    And what about the rehabilitation of dead zones and the disparity which will occur once these MPAs are established? People talk about fish spilloff, but have you seen the literal night and day transformation between a protected area and one that’s not? I’ve seen it first-hand after spending some time in the Philippines and it’s devastating.

    In my opinion, all these issues you mentioned will vastly affect the entire coastline more profoundly than putting up a couple protected areas ever will.

  2. Mark,

    I’ve got two issues with your post.

    1. The environmental community has alienated the fishing community with their “conservation” proposal. The argument that it it only closes 30% of the coast is true but not accurate. I as a fisherman, I would gladly trade the 70% left open in the “conservation” proposal for the 30% that would be closed. This is where 90% of all inshore fishing is done. I think the environmental community would have a much better response from the fishing community, if they didn’t propose closing 90% of the fishable habitat in Southern California. Fishermen want conservation and good management. Look at the recovery of back seabass and white seabass. Fishermen for the most part are willing to implement reasonable MPAs. Fishermen are NOT WILLING to give up 90% of the inshore fishable habitat. And until the “environmental” community is willing to come to the table with a proposal that isn’t completely insulting, fishermen will have a hard time working with the “environmental community. MPAs are not the end all, be all tool for ecosystem restoration. Fishermen recognize this, and I am pretty sure most non-consumptives recognize this, but external proposal C sure didn’t.

    2. The second issue is this quote. “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.”

    This statement is absolutely false. I challenge you to actually look at the sub-regional maps of Laguna Beach.
    When you have done that, please inform me how any of these maps are identical or are habitats of lesser quality.

    Thank you.

    I would love to hear how the Fishing community, who are environmentalist, can get involved with water quality issues.
    Put the fishing community to work on these issues, but work with us on MPAs, not against us.

  3. I was a sport and commercial diver (urchins and abalone) in the 70s in SoCal. There were many, but not like the stories we heard and pictures we saw from the 50s and earlier. When I came back to SoCal in the mid 80s from college I attended a few of the National Park Service hearings about creating parks and monuments around the Channel Islands. The commercial and sport diving communities were most vocal and vehemently against this conservation. These days one is not surprised to learn that the abalone has been essentially hunted out of existence. Those communities only think about what they “need” (want) in the present day. I’m not surprised to hear they still think like that.

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