DFW + MLPA = A Load of Crap


If you’re a regular reader, you already know that I’m not a big fan of the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA). But my problem isn’t with the initial legislation, which was intended to create several small and inexpensive to maintain Marine Protected Areas (MPA’s) along our coast. My disgust stems from the fact that the implementation process was hijacked by special interest groups, who used totalitarian tactics to push through their bad science and create the anti-fishing juggernaut that the MLPA has become.

But regardless of my feelings, I’d come to accept the fact that the MLPA was law and chalked it up to just another price I had to pay for the right to live and fish in sunny Southern California. Sure, the MLPA took away a huge percentage of the best fishing areas along our coast. And yes, it will definitely cause boats to bunch up and overfish the few remaining areas still available to them. But as long as the Packard Foundation funded scientists and advisers are getting their bonus checks, and the beachfront housewives in Laguna and Malibu no longer have fishing boats spoiling the ocean views they paid so dearly for, I guess that the process is a great environmental success story.

Apparently the newly renamed California Department of Fish and Wildlife (thankfully they got rid of that outdated word “game” lest anyone confuse them with a sportsmen’s regulatory agency) thinks so too. The following are excerpts from their self congratulatory press release about this “globally significant network” and tips on how other states can join in the fun by destroying the sportfishing heritage of their own constituents.

California Department of Fish and Wildlife News Release

California Creates a Globally Significant Network of Marine Protected Areas
New Analyses Can Guide Similar Planning Endeavors

California recently completed an historic overhaul of how it manages its coastal waters by revising and expanding its system of marine protected areas (MPAs). This system of MPAs is the largest scientifically based network in the U.S. and second largest in the world.

Under a mandate from the state’s 1999 Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA), California’s network of MPAs designated by the California Fish and Game Commission have greatly increased the percentage of state waters protected. The resulting network designates approximately 9.4 percent of state waters as “no-take” MPAs. About 16 percent of state waters are now under some form of protection, which is a dramatic increase in coverage.

Informed by science and crafted with significant stakeholder involvement, California’s new network of 124 designated areas (including 119 MPAs and five recreational management areas, all managed within the network) replaced 63 existing MPAs that were mostly small (covering just 2.7 percent of state waters, with less than ¼ percent in no-take MPAs) and considered ineffective. The area covered by the MPAs represents approximately 60 percent of all no-take MPAs within the waters of the 48 contiguous U.S. states.

I’ve got a real problem with the statement about the existing MPAs being “considered ineffective”. Why use the word “considered” rather than “proven” to be ineffective? Well, this is one of the underlying problems with this whole thing; there wasn’t any existing science to prove it one way or the other. So why did they choose to increase the size and quantity of the ineffective MPAs rather than cancel the program all together? Because doing away with ineffective MPAs didn’t fit in to the hijacker’s agenda.

“The network of MPAs was designed by stakeholders with guidance from scientists, managing agencies, experts, members of the public and policy-makers to meet the six goals of the MLPA, while also allowing for human uses of marine resources – understandably a complicated task that involved tradeoffs and compromises, but with the vision that the MPA network will provide long-term benefits to California and our marine environment,” said Ken Wiseman, executive director of the MLPA Initiative.

The California Fish and Game Commission, the decision-making authority under the MLPA, acted on the basis of recommendations delivered by the MLPA Initiative, which conducted four regional public planning processes between 2005 and 2011. California’s MLPA calls for redesigning the state’s existing MPAs to meet specific goals to increase coherence and effectiveness in protecting the state’s marine life, habitats, ecosystems and natural heritage as well as to improve recreational, educational and study opportunities provided by marine ecosystems subject to minimal human disturbance.

Trade offs and compromises? It seems that fishermen made all of the compromises while the enviros traded off by taking turns complaining about how unfair it was that fishermen should be able to access any of our state’s waters. And regarding marine ecosystems subject to minimal human disturbance; that’s the biggest joke of all. All they did was stop people from fishing in those waters, while doing nothing about pollution, urban runoff, invasive species carried by international shipping, boat motor noise, or divers and surfers disturbing sensitive marine organisms.

Critical to successfully completing the new MPA network planning processes were some distinctive elements that are highlighted in the special issue, including:

• Certain enabling conditions were in place in California to support the public MPA network planning: a legislative act, political support and sufficient funding to support a multi-year effort.

Read as: lots of special interest groups (including Big Oil and marina developers) where there to financially grease the wheels to get the MLPA train rolling in the desired direction.

• The MLPA Initiative was a public-private partnership structured through formal agreements and charged with working with stakeholders, scientists, experts, resource managers, policy-makers and the public to develop recommendations for an improved network of MPAs.

• The MLPA Blue Ribbon Task Force (BRTF), composed of experienced policy makers, provided oversight to the process and forwarded final recommendations to the California Fish and Game Commission. The BRTF played a crucial role in managing complex and contentious issues, balancing tradeoffs and maintaining momentum toward completing the planning processes.

Blue Ribbon Task Force: Employees of special interest groups appointed to provide oversight of the process; ensuring that the predetermined outcome of this “clear and transparent” farce is met.

• The MLPA Master Plan Science Advisory Team provided robust scientific guidance and assessment, including developing simple guidelines for MPA network design based on ecological principles intended to support achieving the six MLPA goals. Marine scientists from many institutions participated in the planning process, including researchers from the University of California campuses at Davis, Santa Barbara and Santa Cruz, and Ecotrust who developed mathematical models to project the fisheries costs and benefits, in terms of both economics and conservation of the proposed MPAs. Contract technical support provided additional science capacity and developed new interactive, spatially explicit decision support tools, including MarineMap.

Science Advisors: People hired by the special interest groups to come up with evidence to supports the predetermined conclusion that MPAs are necessary.

• The MLPA Initiative overcame some of the challenges of prior statewide planning efforts, unsuccessful in part due to the size and complexity of California’s coast, by sequencing the work of the MLPA Initiative into four coastal regions which allowed planning and stakeholder engagement at more appropriate scales.

If at first you don’t succeed, divide and quietly conquer.

• The MLPA Initiative was controversial and confronted a variety of political and legal challenges. Some fishing interests strongly opposed the process and viewed MPAs, which in part limit fishing in specific areas, as unnecessary for fisheries already subject to other regulations. Other stakeholders judged the redesigned and adopted MPAs as insufficient to meet the ecosystem protection goals of the MLPA.

So, fishermen who actually spend time fishing in our local waters felt this was unnecessary. But why rely on them when you have housewives waving pictures of dead pelicans and school children who’ve only seen fish in an aquarium? After all, it’s not about results; it’s about appearing to be doing something “good” for the environment.

• An important challenge to adaptively managing MPAs over the long-term will be to demonstrate success in meeting the goals of the MLPA, including conserving or sustaining marine life populations.

mlpa dfw crap“Science dictated the establishment of these MPAs, and their success will be reflected in data acquired through cost-effective monitoring. We are confident that monitoring will show the same results as elsewhere in the oceans: MPAs work,” said Mike Weber, program officer with the Resources Legacy Fund Foundation.

Science dictated the establishment of these MPAs? That’s pretty interesting coming from someone whose employer’s website states the following, Resources Legacy Fund (RLF) has the ability to accept tax-deductible grants, pool funds from a variety of sources, fund lobbying efforts, build the capacity and effectiveness of grantees, and measure conservation results.” Basically, special interest groups funneled money through the RLF (and got a tax break) to push their environmental agendas. And once the law was pushed through, RLF received the funding to monitor the MPAs. Sounds like job security to me…

Well, that’s about all that I have to say on that matter. I apologize for the rant and promise to put my soap box away for at least a little while to focus on fishing. Speaking of which, since the fishing will probably be slow and sporadic again this weekend (especially for those Coronado Island yellowtail), I recommend visiting the Pacific Coast Sportfishing Festival at the Orange County Fairgrounds. There will be a ton of vendors showing off the latest and greatest tackle and boats, and they’ve got some really informative seminars scheduled, so it’s definitely worth a visit.

Erik Landesfeind
Erik Landesfeind is BD's Southern California Editor and has over 30 years of experience saltwater fishing for a range of species in both California an...