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Paul Lebowitz – IT'S JUST FISHING

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Tuesday, September 08, 2009
Targeting local tuna by kayak

MLPA LOG: Trust Betrayed
Hard-won cross-interest gains sabotaged to appease a preservationist agenda
  EDITOR'S NOTE:  WON staffer and Kayak Editor Paul Lebowitz is a stakeholder in the MLPA process and his MLPA log is an ongoing observation within the process.

Say what you want about the people responsible for managing MLPA implementation. But don’t call them stupid; initiative staffers such as Executive Director Ken Wiseman are exceedingly sharp and practiced at this game.

That makes last week’s stunning developments so much harder to stomach. Scarcely pausing to recognize the landmark collaboration painstakingly achieved in two of the three South Coast Regional Stakeholder Group ‘Gems’ workgroups, Wiseman and MLPA Blue Ribbon Task Force Chair Don Benninghoven smashed fragile new feelings of trust and hope that this process might after all be fair by a single act that can at best be described as clumsy. At worst, it confirmed the fears of the MLPA’s most vocal critics. What were they thinking?

In a provocation seemingly designed to prove the oft-heard assertion that the private money funding MLPA implementation is getting the environmental community the best policy they can buy, the pair threw agreed-to RSG procedure to the winds. In essence, they changed the rules of the game on the fly, discarding the results of a vote to eliminate 1 of 7 marine protected area network proposals, and they did it when no one in the public was watching, several days after the vote was taken and a day after the results were promised. Sound suspicious?

The beneficiary was external proposal C, the handiwork of environmental groups Santa Barbara Channelkeeper and Santa Monica Baykeeper. By far, it was the most closure heavy plan on the table. It received only 29 out of 64 possible votes. Given the format of the ballot, in which RSG members had to select 4 out of 5 proposals to advance, 35 RSG members, a majority of some 55%, recognized External C’s narrow, single interest focus and voted to eliminate it. In contrast, United Anglers of Southern California’s plan was second to last, with 39 votes and significantly more support. Quick note; 2 of the proposals, produced through cross-interest support in the workgroups, were exempt by prior arrangement from the vote – you’ll hear more about this in a bit.

So you can fully understand the shockwaves generated by the decision to keep External C in play, ones that knocked the RSG members who represent fishing communities flat just days after we’d bent over backwards to forge a reasonable middle ground, we have to travel back in time a week to a grueling 3-day set of workshops and hearings held in Santa Ana May 19-21. That one started off with a rare 7 pm public comment session. Given a chance to attend without losing a day’s pay, fishing folk turned out in force, speaking emotionally and eloquently about the potential impacts of closures at La Jolla, Palos Verdes, the Laguna-Dana Pt coast, and other spots. It was past 1 am when the echoes of the final public speaker’s comments faded and the meeting was adjourned.

Your words resonated during the two days of intense negotiations that followed. Taking the admonitions of Wiseman and Benninghoven that only cross-interest proposals will get it done, and heeding the warning that proposals lacking it would be either unilaterally killed or at least subject to the aforementioned RSG elimination vote, RSG members from all sides dug deep in every workgroup. We bartered, cajoled, and argued our way up and down Southern California. And somehow against all odds, those of us in the Opal and Topaz workgroups found enough in common to forge true compromise proposals that most of the RSG members and the interests they represent can live with.

Straw votes were required to reach conclusions as we moved down the coast, always cognizant of the heavy burden imposed by the Science Advisory Team guidelines on MPA size, spacing and habitat representation. Straw votes are nothing new in MLPA planning at the RSG level; they were used in previous study regions to reach decisions in the short time frame available during work sessions. Most votes were contentious, but debate in the Opal workgroup was never cut off with less than a 2 to 1 vote in favor. When preservationists protested, the bar was even higher, requiring thresholds in the 75 to 80% range. To put that context, that’s more than it takes to pass a state budget, and we all know how difficult a task that is!

The eventual Opal majority included a fisheries biologist, a national marine sanctuary employee, a representative of the California Coastal Commission, an industrial wastewater expert, a harbor master, and a representative of the Department of Defense, and they were joined by others outside the fishing community for votes on key areas – always after costly sacrifices were made to get closer to meeting their particular needs. If this isn’t the definition of working across interests, what is?

As with any collection of diverse perspectives, there were some partisans who were bitterly displeased with the results. They fell on both sides of the line, fishing and pro-closure, but the only ones I heard complaining about the legitimacy of the process represent preservationist groups, who decried “the tyranny of the majority.” Their protests continued in the days following the vote. Those of us with a healthy paranoid streak watched in rising alarm, and this publication warned presciently of yet another sudden process change favoring the pro-closure side.   

That two of three workgroups reached convergence proposals was a notable achievement, one that to my knowledge has never happened this early in an MLPA planning process or to this broad extent. Doing so required agonizing concessions on the part of the fishing RSG representatives, ones we know will have real-world consequences in terms of lost jobs, damaged businesses, and impacts to cherished ways of life but stops short of destroying the majority of our maritime economy and heritage.

The two consensus proposals were automatically forwarded for scientific analysis, while the external proposals and a pair of non-consensus plans out of the deadlocked Lapis workgroup had to face the aforementioned elimination vote. And for what did we in the cross-interest RSG majority labor? For the reward of watching the smart people who run the MLPA exert their dictatorial power to nullify the vote, giving the economically disastrous external C a free pass. This is the proposal that calls for the closure of virtually every meaningful fishing spot in Southern California, the one voted down by a majority of the RSG. If I’d have known that sticking to the extreme was an option that could sail forward by executive fiat, I’d have refused to budge from my original starting position. Then again, could we be sure an option backed by fishing interests would have been granted a new lease on life?

External C should now be nothing but a bad memory. Instead, it’ll serve as a glaring reminder that a minority of the RSG, a collection of the most ardent pro-closure advocates, can hold the process hostage until the powers that be grant their wishes. Yet when 30 members of the RSG, largely on the fishing side, signed a letter asking for a pause in the MLPA planning process to allow tardy guidance and scientific work to catch up, we were told to make do with the existing process.  

As a member of the RSG who represents a fishing group, I’m angry for allowing myself to be used by an MLPA planning team that arbitrarily changes rules, nearly always at the last minute and under mysterious circumstances. I’m profoundly disappointed with a BRTF that, when it gets what it wants, true collaboration and cross-interest compromise, doesn’t respect the work of a majority of its stakeholders. And I end with this question, for you the fishing public but most especially for the BRTF, the Fish and Game Commission, and our state legislators. If a compromise that cuts across interests can’t get it done as long as those favoring massive closures don’t get their way, what kind of Southern California MLPA plan could possibly be good enough?

Editor’s note: The Blue Ribbon Task Force is meeting this week on Thursday, June 4, at the Sheraton Gateway Los Angeles Hotel, 6101 West Century Boulevard, Los Angeles. Public comment is scheduled for 9:40 am. If you too feel betrayed by recent developments that outrageously advantaged those who want to end fishing as we know it in Southern California, this is a perfect opportunity to hold the BRTF accountable for its recent biased, anti-democratic action.  

Reader Comments
Paul, I'll answer your question, even though I know you already know the answer. Despite your best efforts and good faith deliberations nothing you offer will be good enough. The "I" Team/BRTF and the SAT have put the RSG in the position of merely providing cover for them to maximize the scope of SMR's. I think the same group of 30 that signed the letter to Benninghovan asking for a pause (plus a handful of others judging by the 35 votes to eliminate Proposal C) should demand that Proposal C be taken off the table. If the "I" Team refuses to validate the voting, you should walk. Right here, right now. You'll never get a better indication of the charade this process has become. The fight should be taken to the Courts and the Legislature or perhaps straight to the Commission.. You've already seen how much the "I" Team listened to the outpouring of fishermen on that Tuesday evening. The fact that it was not taped for the public record should have been a tipoff. I don't see how you can proceed at this point.
Dave Renner

This was my worst fear, all along; that it didn't matter what we said or what scientific data was presented to show contrary to their arguments, they were going to follow their agenda no matter what. The fact is, this has never been about the environment. It has been about fishing. Instead of fighting the war on waste run-off which consistently raise bacteria levels to nationwide high rankings, the liberal environmentalists that run this state from top to bottom have succeded in closing the healthiest fisheries on the Southern California coast. In essence saying to the public, you can only fish the areas that are too polluted for us to do anything about. This is clearly an elitist policy in elitist state. It's a shame however that the public will never be outraged about this because they've been fooled into thinking that this IS about environmental protection. The environmentalists will cry, "Protect our Marine Life!", and the publics reaction will be "Yes! I'm all for protecting the environment!" because that's the knee-jerk reaction created by our fight on Global Warming and environmental consciousness, but shame on the public and our state government for not putting in the time and money that this policy deserves. Shame on you California. Charles Volkens.
Charles Volkens

When all is said and done, it is then the voice of the people shall take hold and slap the opposition with so much litigation it'll make their head spin. Lawyer's for the cause (if we the public, give them enough incentive to fight for us) will bring this whole MLPA process to a stand still and knowing our court system this can be litigated from now to eternity. I realize the environmentalist jihaddist can only be defeated by a holy crusade of fisherman fighting for truth, justice and the american way. Litigation baby, their money versus our hopefully collective effort will sink their ship (that'll make nice habitat for the fish)! Nuts on the MLPA whacko's each and everyone one of them. Stregth in Unity! GO USA!!!!
Greg Smith

I am a science teacher & did contract work for F&G in college, so this stuff really stinks... ok, if they were to close areas of poor habitat, wouldn't those protective now rebound back to good environmental conditions thus replenishing fish & other critters? 2cents... thanks
rusty alexander

The government needs a spanking. Who do they think runs things. The boat owners and such run things. By paying dues/taxes and buying fuel... working hard all of us can't wait to sell their boat. Fines included. I'm tired. Save the California Sea Lion? They eat more fish than gill-netters take in a season. Wake up? Take care and be safe. Mike
Mike Ackerman

I teach 6th grade and under the terms of my educational permit I will be unable to continue to teach since all my collecting ares will be off limits, except for the LA breakwater. -- So much for introducing 1000 plus children to California's oceans.
rex lopez

The DFG has continually overlooked the issues with the overfishing by large foreign processor boats and fleets off California. Net boats have continuously taken/ killed millions of fish with a high waste ratio for the catch. The DFG should be suing the Feds for failing to stop this tragety and leave the sport fishermen alone as they are the victims of poor federal management of the resource and should not take the brunt of this new DFG posture. If it is clearly a temporary regulation packet by DFG due to a major downturn in species that is one thing but there seems to be a total long lasting decline which is caused by many factors, including large foreign fishing boats. Unless the big boats are not stopped NOW we sportsmen have no chance at all because the fish will be gone. Funny, there is not much on foreig catches listed in any laws. WHY IS THAT? Yet, fish populations are affected for 20-30 miles or more from shore. Lots of excuses no action on the real culprets.
Frank Kastl
Sorry to hear the bad news. But, We all as Americans are all in a battle with these environmental groups. I am a prospector. I use a dredge. The fishing community has aligned themselves with the Karuk tribe in Northern California. These same environmental groups want to shut down dredging in California. This will affect many miners in California from making a living. Fisherman have been given a healthy dose of B.S. by these environmentalists that dredging kills fish. The karuk tribe nets salmon by the hundreds. and, There is a claim that their fishing has come to a near depleted state. They want to blame others for their problems. So, now this same thing is in your court. For you all to fight to keep your freedoms to make a living. United we stand. or, devided we fall. This attack is not just in the ocean. This attack is all across America folks. That means, in streams, rivers, lakes, creeks. If you want to unite yourselves with other Americans to fight for our rights Let me know. Please! check out this new bill that these environmentalists want passed. It is bill # S 787 The clean water restoration act. This will be the largest land grab in American History. if This bill goes through you could lose your property. The Feds will take control of all water. even if you have a puddle of water on your property. Remember the phrase? " Change is coming" P.S. I too love fishing! OK? Contact and join us at "PLP" Public lands for the people. and lets unite and fight these people to keep our rights in tact. OK? God Bless!
Paul, When this ends up in court, please post it at AKF on who will be leading the legal challenge so I can send them some money. Court is where this needs to be settled IMHO. Perry Crosbie
Perry Crosbie
Upon reading the current news of the MLPA i feel nothing but a debilitating sense of guilt rush over my body. I spent nearly every day this summer with fishermen, both recreational and commercial, collecting data for the MLPA process. I cared so much about retaining my ability to fish our waters, and preserving the livelihood of thousands of people. I felt I was doing the right thing working to "properly represent the fishermen in the stakeholders meetings" as my bosses told me I was doing. However, my initial view of the first edition of the MLPA closures map filled me with an overwhelming sense of betrayal. It was as if every single piece of information I took down was either discounted or used against me. The countless personal statements I took from fisherman, thrown out the window. Seeing the initial maps or proposed SMR's in california, it would be more befitting to spray the entire map with red spray paint than take the time to trace each proposed reserve one at a time. Why wont people just wait to see if the protective measures they created years ago are starting to work? Which, they are. Numerous fisherman spoke of how fishing was better than it ever was in ten or fifteen years. Just yesterday morning I caught a legal lingcod in only 15 feet of water in the first kelp bed in front of Neptunes Net in Malibu, a feat which was impossible even several years ago. It doesn't take minutes, or even 5 years, to see the results of protective conservation measures. It takes decades. We are just beginning to see the effects of removing gill nets within 1-3 miles of the islands/coast. I don't know anymore. I feel as if I have taken the girl of my dreams to prom and have to wait for her to sleep with my brother and then still get to be the chump who drives her home. All I do know is two things. 1.) We need to stop these closures in any way possible and 2.) Any person who holds the preservation of a few animals over the livelihood and wellness of their fellow human beings has no integrity and little to no morals.
Matthew Strang
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