MPA’s Approved – June 12, 2012

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Daniel Mintz

Eye Correspondent

HUMBOLDT – Marine protected areas in the North Coast region have gotten final approval from the state’s Fish and Game Commission, which stuck to a local stakeholders proposal and rejected boundary expansions.

The commission’s action, taken at a June 6 hearing at Eureka’s Red Lion Inn, concludes the formation of a statewide Marine Protected Area (MPA) network, as called for by the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA).

Assemblymember Wes Chesbro urged commissioners to do what they eventually did – adopt a regional network that a varied group of stakeholders agreed upon. Exclusions for the region’s Native American tribes were developed and Chesbro emphasized the importance of tribal buy-in.

“Tribal representatives were unanimous in their opposition to MPAs until their needs were met,” he said, relating that he talked with state Natural Resources Secretary John Laird about tribal issues as soon as Laird took his post.

Non-commercial tribal harvesting is built-into the northern network and Chesbro said that without it, legislation or lawsuits would have emerged, risking “collapse of the unified position on the North Coast.”

During a public comment session, supporters of the locally-produced proposal included recreational fishermen, divers and waterfowl hunters. Aaron Newman of the county’s Harbor District, who represented commercial fishing interests on the stakeholders group, pledged help with implementation of the MPAs and with marking their boundaries.

Environmental group representatives supporting the consensus proposal included Beth Werner of Humboldt Baykeeper and Jennifer Savage of Ocean Conservancy, who was also a stakeholder group member.

But much of the public comment was from tribal representatives. Many supported the consensus proposal and some said it will be a step toward improved tribal relationships with state agencies. Other tribal members were wary of the concept of tribal accommodation, saying tribes will never cede their rights to continue marine harvesting.

Monique Sinoquie, the Wiyot tribe’s historic preservation officer, quoted from the United Nation’s Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and told commissioners that tribes have been subjected to a “coercion process in having to negotiate tribal rights and responsibilities.”

After public comment, Commissioner Mike Sutton noted the United Nations reference and in turn quoted a recent statement on biodiversity U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, who’d said that people must “galvanize action to improve the management and conservation of oceans.”

“So your work here is cutting edge and certainly consistent with what the United Nations secretary general had in mind,” Sutton said.

Earlier in the process, the state’s Department of Fish and Game (DFG) had declared the stakeholders proposal to be inadequate. But the pro-MPA lobbying seen in other areas of the state was lacking in the northern region and the agency’s opinion was politically marginal.

The MLPA has been controversial in all the coastal communities it’s been applied to. Commissioner Richard Rogers said that at this point, however, the value of MPAs is becoming “self-evident” and they’re “poised to return California’s marine resources to the sustainable abundance that we all once enjoyed – at least those of you that are old enough to remember.”

Rogers, Sutton and Commissioner Jack Bayliss unanimously voted to adopt the stakeholders proposal, completing a coastal system that Sutton described as “the largest science-based network anywhere in the United States.”

The northern region extends from Point Arena in Mendocino County to the Oregon border. The MPAs within it have been designed for protection of all marine animals but restrictions on fishing have been particularly controversial.

A near-shore MPA at Reading Rock near Orick allows some commercial and recreational fishing while an offshore MPA there bans those activities.

An MPA near Arcata and Manila allows some fishing and a smaller one at South Humboldt Bay allows recreational fishing “intended to accommodate tribal uses.” It’s one of several MPAs the commission chose not to expand.

More restrictive MPAs are mapped in the lightly-fished Lost Coast area and an MPA north of Shelter Cove allows commercial take of salmon and Dungeness crab, as well as recreational fishing, again described as a means of accommodating tribal uses.