Marine Hearings Buoyed by Nonprofits

The view of Heisler Park and Main Beach, which, along with most of Laguna's coastline, will soon be off limits to fishing.

Anglers sue to block fishing ban

Expanded marine protections for Southern California were recently finalized after months of debate, but fishermen that oppose the outcome maintain the process was tainted because of a little known fact: the hearings were largely funded by non-profits that support marine sanctuaries.

Five non-profits, including one based in Laguna Beach, donated a total of $20 million to see the drafting process to completion since the state legislature never budgeted adequate funding for the marine-protection law, which was enacted in 1999.

Heisler Park, Laguna's only existing marine reserve, which will be expanded under new regulations, from the air. Photo: Ted Reckas

Meanwhile, recreational fishermen continue to fund litigation and lobbying to roll back the new regulations, which could go into effect as soon as April. The new rules will broaden marine protected areas that bar commercial and recreational fishermen from some prized fishing grounds, including most of Laguna Beach’s shoreline, a favorite of spear-fishermen and lobster-hunters for decades.

David Myers, owner of Dana Point’s Jig Stop Tackle and leader of the southern California recreational fishing group United Anglers, maintains that MLPA funding by environmental supporters is a conflict of interest.

“Since the process was rigged from the beginning, the fact is this is what the government wanted, and created the process to achieve it. We are working after the fact here, because it was totally controlled,” Myers said.

Others involved with the legal process refute his contention.

“They wanted the law implemented and were willing to put up $20 million to ensure that we had a public process and everyone was heard. That’s good public policy,” said Ken Wiseman, director of the MLPA Initiative, the public-private partnership appointed by state officials to implement the law.

“Private philanthropic foundations were only involved on the condition that there would be a rigorous public process and serious scientific involvement, and deadlines. They would have no say at all over the direct decision-making,” said Michael Mantel, a partner in Sacramento’s Resources Legacy Fund law firm, appointed by state officials to handle funding of the Marine Life Protection Act.

Four months before broader marine protections were finalized in December, lobbyist George Osborn, hired by four recreational fishing groups, pressed their case in person with gubernatorial candidate Jerry Brown, who expressed sympathy to their cause.

Last May in Sacramento’s Superior Court, Robert C. Fletcher, then president of Sportfishing Association of California, successfully sued three state agencies overseeing MLPA regulations in order to obtain their internal communications. Fletcher alleged Fish and Game staff were conducting closed-door meetings in what is mandated as a public process.

Wiseman denies the contention, saying some committee members talked over a meal while traveling, but all meetings involving decision-making were held in public. Wiseman dismisses Fletcher’s move as an attempt to derail a process he opposes. Fletcher says the judge’s finding in his favor is evidence his contention is correct.

Even so, Wiseman does admit there is an agenda: implement the law even if the state is broke.

“(The funders) are certainly pro-MLPA; that’s why they put up the money. They are conservationists and fishermen. Yes, they wanted the law implemented, just as the PSO wanted it stopped. Now, not able to convince people their program is the only one that’s right, they do this,” Wiseman said of the lawsuit.

The group responsible for shaping the protected areas was made up of appointees named by directors of the state Department of Natural Resources and Fish and Game Department and included Fletcher. “If they wanted a predetermined outcome they wouldn’t put someone like Fletcher on the RSG (regional stakeholder group). But they did,” Wiseman said.

Because the cash-strapped state has ceded underwriting of some public business to such public-private partnerships, the process, at the very least, creates the appearance of a conflict of interest by the funders, a situation others say is likely to flourish as the state’s fiscal crises continues.

“This is not uncommon. It has been done in the health care and educations fields. Striped bass regulations and hunting regulations are all funded by fishing and hunting interests,” explained Mantel. “The important thing is transparency, full disclosure, and the decision-making be retained by public officials.

“As the budget crisis gets more severe, there will be more looking for public-private partnerships,” he added.

Others echo his sentiment.

“There is only going to be more stuff that the state is supposed to do and not have the resources to do, and that discussion is going to be taking place more and more,” said Chris Decardi, program director for the Packard Foundation, which contributed $8.2 million to fund MLPA hearings.

The Laguna Beach-based Marisla Foundation founded by Getty Oil heiress Anne Getty Earhart, which supports environmental causes as well as physical, mental, and financial health for women, gave another $3 million over several years, according to the Resources Legacy Fund. The most recent tax records show Marisla donated $12 million in 2008 to 50 causes, including $1.1 million towards the MLPA. A foundation spokeswoman declined comment.

Remaining MLPA funders were the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, which donated $7.4 million, the Keith Campbell Foundation’s $1.2 million, and the Annenberg Foundation’s $200,000.

The Marine Life Protection Act called for the creation of a network of marine protected areas across the state’s entire 1100-mile coastline as well as research, public outreach, and ongoing monitoring of regulated areas. Enforcement responsibility was delegated to multiple agencies, including wildlife and parks officials. Then Gov. Gray Davis signed the law but allocated no funding, saying the law’s promoters needed to raise funds on their own to implement it.

They may want to start a legal fund as well. Fletcher, along with United Anglers of Southern California and Coast Side Fishing Club, again went to court to halt the new sanctuaries. In a lawsuit filed last month in San Diego Superior Court, they claim the Fish and Game Commission has finalized regulations prematurely as it has not satisfied an MLPA requirement to establish a master plan for rolling out marine protected areas.

Seven years ago, the commission approved a draft master plan, which has been amended as each sub-region in the state devises its own marine protections, Wiseman explained.

“That is what we have been operating with. So this lawsuit seems like a new attempt to throw something else into the mix.”

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  1. Dan Bacher


    Great article! I applaud you for covering the private funding behind the MLPA in detail.

    Here is the transcript of my testimony before the Legislature regarding the South Coast MLPA, prefaced by a short summary of the hearing.

    Ten Big Questions about the MLPA Initiative

    by Dan Bacher

    Assemblymember Wesley Chesbro (D-Arcata) chaired an oversight meeting of the Joint Legislative Committee on Fisheries and Aquaculture at the State Capitol in Sacramento on February 17 from 10 am to 12 noon focusing on the South Coast Study Region of the controversial Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative.

    Recreational anglers, commercial fishermen and grassroots environmentalists exposed the many flaws of the MLPA Initiative, while representatives of corporate environmental NGOs lauded the process for being “open, transparent and inclusive.” About two thirds of the speakers were critical of the MLPA, while about one-third praised the South Coast process.

    After the public comment period, Chesbro noted the divergent perspectives presented by those who testified. “People here today described the process as both the best and the worst process they have experienced,” said Chesbro.

    Chesbro said the Legislature doesn’t have the authority to change the already adopted network of marine protected areas for the South Coast. However, Chesbro emphasized that to make marine protected areas work, it is important that users of the ocean serve as partners in the process. “It is very good for the Committee to shine the light on this process,” he concluded.

    The controversial marine protected areas imposed under the MLPA Initiative, the unprecedented collapse of Central Valley salmon, Delta smelt, longfin smelt, Sacramento splittail and green sturgeon, and the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) to build a peripheral canal are all part of the unfortunate environmental legacy of Arnold Schwarzenegger, the worst Governor for fish and the environment in California history.

    Below is a transcript of my testimony before the committee in which I pose the 10 questions that proponents of the controversial, privately funded process refuse to answer:

    Assemblymember Chesbro, thanks so much for convening today’s hearing.

    In my 28 years of journalism covering fish and water in California, the MLPA Initiative is the most corrupt process that I have ever covered. Here are the 10 questions I have posed to MLPA Initiative advocates and officials regarding the many flaws in the South Coast MLPA process. To date, they have failed to answer these questions.

    1. Why did Schwarzenegger and MLPA officials install an oil industry lobbyist, a marina developer, a real estate executive and other corporate operatives with numerous conflicts of interest on the MLPA Blue Ribbon Task Force for the South Coast to remove Indian Tribes, fishermen and seaweed harvesters from the water by creating so-called “marine protected areas” (MPAS)?

    2. Why was Catherine Reheis-Boyd, the president of the Western States Petroleum Association, allowed to make decisions as the chair of the BRTF for the South Coast, a panel that is supposedly designed to “protect” the ocean, when she has called for new oil drilling off the California coast?

    3. Why has the MLPA Initiative taken water pollution, oil spills and drilling, military testing, corporate aquaculture, habitat destruction and all other impacts on the ocean other than fishing and gathering off the table in its bizarre concept of marine protection?

    4. Why is a private corporation, the shadowy Resources Legacy Fund Foundation, being allowed to privatize ocean resource management in California through a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the DFG?

    5. Why do MLPA staff and the California Fish and Game Commission refuse to hear the pleas of the representatives of the California Fish and Game Wardens Association, who oppose the creation of any new MPAs until they have enough funding for wardens to patrol existing reserves?

    6. Why were there no Tribal scientists on the MLPA Science Advisory Team and why were there no Tribal representatives on the Blue Ribbon Task Forces for the Central Coast, North Central Coast or South Coast MLPA Study Regions?

    7. Why does the initiative discard the results of any scientists who disagree with the MLPA’s pre-ordained conclusions? These include the peer reviewed study by Dr. Ray Hilborn, Dr. Boris Worm and 18 other scientists, featured in Science magazine in July 2009, that concluded that the California current had the lowest rate of fishery exploitation of any place studied on the planet.

    8. Why did the MLPA Blue Ribbon Task Force hold illegal secret meetings, including those held in April 2007 and on November 3, 2008, December 10, 2008, February 25, 2009, October 20, 21 and 22, 2009, as revealed in a 25 page document presented to the California Fish and Game Commission on February 2?

    9. Why did it take a lawsuit by a coalition of fishing organizations to get the emails and correspondence by MLPA officials documenting these private, non-public meetings disclosed to the public?

    10. Why did it take the outrage over the arrest of an independent journalist last spring to open work sessions of the MLPA to coverage by video-journalists?

    I urge you and other Legislators to think hard about these questions and begin a formal investigation into the violation of laws that may have occurred under the MLPA as soon as possible.

    Thank You
    Dan Bacher

  2. David Pu'u

    I think that your discovery of the funding sources is a very good piece of investigative Journalism.

    Now tie in the other prurient interests and groups disconnected from the day to day reality of one who actually is IN the ocean every day, and it is pretty safe to say that a Civil Rights violation of enormous scope is taking place.

    The irony (one point anyway) is that tax dollar fed positions being held by Govt Employees implemented that violation and breech of the public trust. Then you will have the membership of the Environmental groups who eventually will realize that their own interests have been misrepresented.

    Thank you for your diligence Ted, and thank you to the Editor of the Independent for taking the truth by the gills.

  3. Wayne Dolik

    Good advise to the Attornies seeking to overturn the Public-Private Cartel AKA as the MLPA is follow the money!

  4. Don Sack

    Many subsistance fishermen are going to suffer. The Channel Islands MPAs caused a decline in rock cod catches, these have not increased as many people have been lead to believe. World-wide the trawlers have systematically taken over the fisheries. This is just another trawler and oil company pact to take as many users off the water so they can’t object to oil drilling and netting our fish.

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