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Thursday, April 23, 2009
Friday, May 08, 2009

Tensions climb at marathon MLPA stakeholder session
"There was no hugging and singing of campfire songs..."

That's how my news story about the recent stakeholder meetings in Oxnard starts. I've watched just about every meeting in this damn Marine Life Protection Act process and I've never seen one this edgy. But, hey, the stakes are the highest yet, what with so little quality habitat out there and so many already using it. The full story is below.

Anyway, the next huge meeting in the process actually goes back to the North Central Coast as the Fish and Game Commission finally begins the official regulatory hearings to make those closures a reality Thursday, May 14 in Sacramento. At least that's the agenda now.

Much of proposal 2XA, which was the middle ground proposal designed by fishermen in that process, was adopted into the preferred proposal, but a huge piece of 2XA was left out. It's a huge chunk of public access to the best abalone diving in California and the BRTF gift-wrapped it for Karen Garrison and the NRDC. Garrison was a stakeholder in the North Central Coast. The 2XA solution provides plenty of protection and folks up there hope the Fish and Game Commission will finally show some initiative and do the right thing and go with 2XA "all the way."

You can lend your support by sending a letter to the commission via the following link:

Meanwhile there are SAT and BRTF meetings May 15 and May 18-19 via webinar and teleconference and the hope is the issue of the closures at the military islands will finally be resolved as well as some other habitat questions that could provide much needed guidance for the South Coast stakeholders. Stay tuned or look for more info yourself at htttp://

Last-minute letter asks for delay, but process continues

Tensions climb at marathon MLPA stakeholder session

WON Staff Writer

There was no hugging and singing of campfire songs after two days of almost non-stop meetings of the South Coast Regional Stakeholders Working Group exposed extreme polarization of the members involved as they continued to be prodded towards “convergence” on the design of marine protected areas that would close much of the last remaining quality habitat in Southern California to all fishing.

About the only thing most of the stakeholders could agree on is that much of the critical information necessary to inform the process is still missing, although environmentalists claimed the data currently available was stellar and they had all they needed to charge forward in the creation of massive reserves in iconic fishing areas such as La Jolla, Laguna Beach, Palos Verdes, Point Dume and Santa Barbara.

The first day of the April 28-29 meetings was broadcast via the Internet and lasted a full 12 hours including breaks. At one point late at night the group seemed on the point of rebellion when Bob Fletcher of the Sportfishing Association of California presented a letter signed by 30 stakeholders asking Blue Ribbon Task Force (BRTF) Chairman Don Benninghoven to pause the process until such time that the Science Advisory Team (SAT) “provide us the direction we need to complete this process correctly.”

Benninghoven was on hand and pointed out that no other government process actually allows members of the public to participate in design, saying for example that engineers design highway systems and professors create educational master plans. (Ignoring the fact that that was exactly what the state tried to do the first time around when scientists created the first MLPA maps behind closed doors — which did result in outraged protests on the part of the fishing public.) He noted it was early in the process, and that the data was better than previous projects and more was forthcoming, and, speaking for himself, he thought it possible more time could be added to the stakeholder process in September and October. He also said Task Force members spent more time crafting the guidance memo presented by Bill Anderson than morning than on any other item during the two previous processes.

He referred to how the BRTF’s Anderson started off the morning presenting the memo from his panel that reiterated the guidance from the North Central Coast process that mandated stakeholders use marine reserves (no fishing at all) as the backbone of any MPA package and to try at all times to reach the preferred size and spacing and levels of protection (moderate high to very high) recommended by the Science Advisory Team. Anderson, and subsequently the I-Team, placed the most emphasis on the fact that “Cross-interest support for the final MPA proposals is very important and will be given great weight.”

I-Team facilitator Eric Poncelet called it searching for the “middle ground” and the word convergence was also often used.

Presentations from the SAT, the departments of Fish and Game and State Parks and Recreation were followed by opportunities for the stakeholders to ask questions and the questions inevitably returned to the lack of the information needed to properly negotiate the closures.

One stakeholder after another said reaching any kind of cross-interest convergence would be impossible due to the missing data and the failure of the BRTF to resolve key policy decisions such as the role of the closures at the islands owned by the military.

Dr. Larry Allen’s presentation on how well first round proposals met size and spacing guidelines set off an emotional powder keg, especially when Allen pointed out that even some of the most conservative plans (those that closed the most area to fishing) didn’t meet the spacing guidelines.

When Dave Rudie noted Chair Beninghoven had directed the group to minimize socioeconomic impacts while at the same time meeting science guidelines and asked to be told if  stakeholder proposals were meeting those guidelines, the BRTF’s Meg Caldwell noted that minimizing socioeconomic impact was not a guideline, either from the SAT or the act, and should not be considered an “algorithm” to be used in the design of the network.

Stakeholder Mick Kronman, Harbor Operations Manager for the City of Santa Barbara, gave an impassioned response to Caldwell noting that the stakeholders as a group had agreed to try and minimize socioeconomic impacts and then put it all into focus:

“It is important to remember what’s at stake here and it’s not just about whether people go fishing —  it’s about  mortgages, paying the rent, putting food on the table and clothes on your back, it’s about marriages, it’s about businesses,” said Kronman. “The consequences and what’s at stake are absolutely huge, and it makes me personally nervous the direction being given isn’t crisp.”

He went on to state that moving designs towards even more conservative arrays with bigger reserves more closely spaced together would “precipitate the collapse of the Southern California marine economy.”

A visibly shaken Caldwell replied by saying her husband had just lost his job and that she was “well aware of what it means to a family and a household.” She reiterated that the stakeholders were being asked to follow the guidelines and, when that wasn’t possible, explain why. Only then, she said, would the BRTF be able to pass judgment and choose a preferred alternative of closures.

Stakeholders are directed not to comment on the proceedings of the actual work sessions, but sources said the next day’s meetings of the three gem groups, including subsets that tried to come to agreement on specific areas of geography, only served to highlight the large distance remaining before any true convergence is met. Environmentalists on the stakeholders group were emboldened by the directives from the BRTF and took a hard line.

Complicating negotiations was a decision by the Science Advisory Team just prior to the meeting that kelp habitat along the coast would only count if it was “persistent” as opposed to “average” kelp, meaning only places where kelp was found over an entire 7-year period.

Another was a scientist’s remark that there appeared to be little or no larval transfer between Catalina and any other islands or the mainland.

“The environmentalists were saying things like La Jolla was the Holy Grail of the project absolutely had to be included, along with all of Laguna, the entire westerly section of Palos Verdes and 21 miles of Point Dume,” noted one stakeholder. “Then they were saying Catalina was a ‘sink’ because it doesn’t share larva and they started putting up reserves all over that island.”

At least a large segment of the fishing public showed up the first day to take advantage of a public comment period that was dominated by a large contingent of consumptive divers (spearfishermen) from both the San Diego and Santa Barbara areas, as two of the best fishing dive spots in the state, La Jolla and Coal Oil Point were proposed for closures in many early arrays. Public comment was again limited to one minute unless another person who turned in a speaker’s card ceded their time another speaker.

Both more public comment opportunities and deliberation were added to the schedule following last week’s meeting, as the South Coast working group has had an additional day added to its meeting near the end of May. An afternoon work session will start at 1 p.m. May 19 at the Doubletree Hotel on East MacArthur  Blvd. in Santa Ana, with a full work session day on May 20 and then a regular meeting of the stakeholders set for May 21, both in the same location. By the end of business on May 21 the working group is expected to have reduced the number of proposal to “5 or 6” to be passed on the various oversight agencies for evaluation.


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