Pacific Swell | Southern California environment news and trends

Legal battle keeps protection along California's coast in doubt [UPDATED]

Is the MLPA here to stay? Fishermen don't think so. Now one of 'em's suggesting the state shut down the Marine Life Protection Act to keep 70 California State Parks open that budget cuts would otherwise shut. 

Dan Bacher is legen (wait for it) dary as a managing editor, reporter and opinionator for The Fish Sniffer. In Sacramento this week, his editorial "Save State Parks - Shut Down the MLPA Intiative" has been making the rounds. A sample: 

This corrupt initiative, begun by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2004, wastes up to $40 million of the state's money every year, funds that could be spent on maintaining and patrolling State Parks. The Marine Life Protection Act Initiative creates fake “marine protected areas” that fail to protect the ocean waters from water pollution, military testing, oil spills and drilling, wave energy projects, habitat destruction and all other human impacts on the ocean other than fishing and gathering.

Catherine Reheis-Boyd, the president of the Western States Petroleum Association who has called repeatedly for new oil drilling off the California coast, chaired the South Coast MLPA Blue Ribbon Task Force and served on the North Central Coast and North Coast Task Forces. This fact in and of itself demonstrates that the MLPA Initiative has nothing to do with real marine protection.

Bacher's piling on woes for the Marine Life Protection Act - it's having a tough year already. 

To back up, our South Coast region rules approved last winter haven't taken effect yet. After Fish and Game commissioners approved the plans in December, the state's supposed to finalize the regulations procedurally through the Office of Administrative Law. That hasn't happened, so the closures haven't started: though there's plenty of confusion about that. 

Problem 2 for the state: last fall anglers sued over what they called secret meetings held during the Marine Life Protection Act implementation process. Basically, they claimed the private-public operation of the MLPA violated state open meetings rules. 

Now they've won their legal fees.  

“I think it’s a major victory in a long process,” said George Osborn, a lobbyist for the Partnership for Sustainable Oceans, who represented Fletcher in the case, and angling groups at the Department of Fish and Game MLPA implementation meetings. “Clearly, the law has been violated -- and the court will, at the end of the day, set aside the MLPA regulations that have been adopted by the Department of Fish and Game (DFG) Commission.” 

Another suit that aims to block MLPA rules in the South Coast region is still active. United Anglers - represented by the Partnership for Sustainable Oceans (whose name really ticks off environmentalist groups) argues "that the commission does not have the statutory authority to adopt, modify or delete Marine Protected Areas under the MLPA’s main rulemaking provisions until it has approved a final Master Plan for the state, which has yet to be finalized."

United Anglers of Southern California, Coastside Fishing Club and Bob Fletcher filed a lawsuit in the San Diego County Superior Court seeking to set aside the MLPA regulations for the North Central and South Coast study regions. The lawsuit cites a lack of statutory authority for the Fish and Game Commission to adopt the regulations, and, in the case of the South Coast regulations, numerous violations of the California Environmental Quality Act, in the commission's environmental review of the regulations.

Fishermen continue to sink money into that suit - that's why they're having a fundraising dinner this weekend at the Atrium Hotel in Irvine - "Proceeds from this event will be used to continue the battle against the flawed and mismanaged Marine Life Protection Act process in the California courts." 

[1:33 PM. Natural Resources Defense Council and The Ocean Conservancy are intervenors in this case - they're defending the regs.]

Meanwhile, near as I know, no legal barrier prevents the state from enacting the MLPA regs for the South Coast. They just haven't. Which, as Dan Bacher points out, leaves a lot of room for confusion about what's happening. 

Against a larger backdrop, that may not mean a lot: California waters are a small piece of the ocean, and marine protection has actually been accellerating over the last 5 years elsewheres in the world. But with lingering concerns about how those protected areas work, and humungous goals set by the Covention on Biological Diversity about the volume of what needs to be protected, what happens here sends a message to the rest of the world. Delaying California's implementation delays the gathering of more useful data about how marine protected areas work. And planning staffing levels for Fish and Game wardens is kinda impaired by the fact that they may have even more to enforce than they already do in state waters. If you use California's coast, would you rather this be solved fast? Or would you rather they take their time?