The Seaweed Rebellion: North Coast Enviros Battle Schwarzenegger and Big Green Over MLPA

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Posted by on June 19, 2009 at 20:38:10:

Craig Bell: "Don't underestimate us. We've been giant killers before in Point Arena."

by Dan Bacher

A group of 70 people, including seaweed harvesters, recreational anglers, abalone divers, environmentalists and Native Americans, gathered at the city hall in Point Arena on Saturday, June 13 to begin the “Seaweed Rebellion” to halt or at least slow down the corrupt fast-track Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) process being ramrodded by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and “Big Green” environmental groups.
The residents of Point Arena, a small fishing town located off the gorgeous Mendocino County coast south of Fort Bragg, have played a powerful role in past battles to stop offshore oil drilling and the clear cutting of redwood forests. Now they are uniting to stop a process that they says is riddled with conflict of interest and mission creep and will remove sustainable seaweed harvesters and fishermen from the Point Arena in order to pave the way for offshore oil drilling, wave energy projects and corporate aquaculture.
“Welcome to the Point Arena Upwelling,” said Craig Bell, chair of the Mendocino County Fish and Game Commission, in opening the meeting, part of the “Point Arena Sustainable Fisheries Reality Tour.” “Point Arena is one of the most environmentally active cities on the North Coast and we don’t support the MLPA’s Integrated preferred alternative (IPA).
“Don't underestimate us,” he stated. “We've been giant killers before in Point Arena.”
He emphasized that the MLPA process has been expanded from a $250,000 process, as originally intended when the law passed in 1999, to an out of control $25 to $40 million financial boondoggle.
“This is all while we are seeing precious cuts in our health care, schools and parks,” said Bell. “The irony is that the MLPA is setting up no-take parks off shore while on land our parks are being closed.”
He noted that the largest de-facto marine protected area in U.S. history, the Rockfish Conservation Zone, now extends along the entire continental shelf of California including the Mendocino Coast. Rather than helping the fisheries and environment as originally intended, Bell said that the proposed closure of Point Arena and Saunders Reef will result in more intense fishing pressure on the area that remains open to fishing, creating negative environmental and economic impacts.”
“We are being told by Mike Chrisman, Resources Secretary, that this is one of most inclusive processes ever,” said Bell. “But there’s a difference between being part of a bottom up process and being processed by a top down process as we are.”
He also criticized the Packard Foundation and Resource Legacy Fund Foundation for their “large, undue influence in the outcome of the process” and the deplorable role of the Big Green environmental groups.
“Outside environmental organizations are assuming that we are behind this process and we resent that,” said Bell. “They assume they know more about our ocean that we do.”
John Lewallen, local seaweed harvester and longtime environmentalist, and his wife, Barbara Lewallen-Stephens, organized the “Point Arena Sustainable Fisheries Reality Tour,” to acquaint the media, the public and government officials with the areas that will be closed to fishing and seaweed harvesting if the Governor and his MPLA Blue Ribbon Task Force have their way. The Recreational Fishing Alliance, Mendocino County Fish & Game Advisory Committee, Mendocino Seaweed Stewardship Alliance, Ocean Protection Coalition, and local fishermen and seaweed harvesters all sponsored the event.
The day started with an "Early Riser Special," from 9-10:30 A.M. at Lighthouse Point Road, Stornetta Public Lands, featuring abalone diving and seaweed harvesting on the minus tide on a beautiful, flat calm day. John discussed his thirty years of sea palm trimming at the proposed new "Sea Lion Rock Marine Reserve," a no-take zone, while Barbara, harvested the tops of the sea palms with a Swiss army knife. Milo Vukovich, President of Sonoma County Abalone Network, after harvesting his 3 abalone limit that morning, spoke about sustainable abalone and the how the MLPA process would actually put increased fishing pressure upon abalone populations.
The morning events were followed by a delicious lunch of sustainably caught sea vegetables, abalone, albacore, rockfish and sea urchins, then followed from 12:30 p.m. to 3 p.m. by the town hall meeting. After Bell, one speaker after another, including the North Coast’s leading environmentalists, denounced the no-take zones scheduled to be adopted in August by the California State Fish and Game Commission.
Milo Vukovich opened his presentation by quipping that the MLPA process was as “open as a wreck between a train and a bicycle.” He said the MLPA area-based closures, imposed from above with no scientific backing, were based only on politics and would conflict with longstanding species-based fisheries management more suitable to the people and wild ocean ecosystem.
He said the IPA would reduce recreational abalone harvesting areas open to public access from 15 to only 7 along the Sonoma and Mendcoino County coast, creating increasing pressure on the existing areas. Vukovich said that the greatest threat to the North coast abalone is the commercialization of the resource by rampant poaching, which is growing due to lack of funding for wardens and the bad economy.
"Abalone are now worth $80 each on the black market," he said. "Half of the North Coast abalone take – 250,000 pounds per year - is poached, and that is figured in to setting the limits. Instead of spending money on law enforcement along the coast to stop this poaching, the state is imposing regulations on top of regulations.”
John Lewallen read from an email he received as "a leader in the fishing community" from Ecotrust, a private corporation contracting with the MLPA to "conduct socioeconomic research" and identify "stakeholders" in the process of making permanent fisheries and intertidal access closures from Point Arena to the Oregon Border to a meeting in Fort Bragg on June 23.
"I'm asked to invite other stakeholders," Mr. Lewallen said, "but the definition of 'stakeholder' is not clear. I define 'stakeholder' as 'a person who eats food,' so I'm inviting everybody."
John Lewallen took aim at the corruption and conflicts of interest involved in officials in the Governor’s MLPA process, noting that the Point Arena Basin is now in process to be leased for offshore oil and gas development by the federal Minerals Management Service, with public comment open until September. Lewallen said that Catherine Reyes-Boyd, CEO of the Western States Petroleum Association, was on the five-member Blue Ribbon Panel of "fisheries experts" that chose the new no-take zones in the Point Arena area.
"Is this because they want to clear independent fishermen and seaweed harvesters out so they can make Point Arena an oil drilling boom town?" Lewallen asked? "Do they think this little town is a soft target?"
On a similar note, Judith Vidaver, chair of the Ocean Protection Coalition, said “What I see here is a resource grab. The first thing that the corporations want to do before grabbing public trust resources it to get rid of the people who live or subsist on the land and ocean. Whether it’s the oil companies, big energy companies or MLPA Process we’re fighting against, OPC is here and will be supportive of you.”
Ann Maurice, Sonoma County Native American activist, who has worked for years to stop MLPA closures from taking away traditional ocean harvesting areas vital to the survival of Kashaya and other Native cultures, gave her full support to the Point Arena “Seaweed Rebellion.”
"Native Americans have been systematically deprived of the right to sustainably fish and harvest intertidal food," Maurice said. "Now the same thing is being done to you. Make no mistake about it."
Many MLPA biologists and state government officials were invited to the event. Lauren Sinnott, Mayor of Point Arena, said the City was fully backing the fishermen. Emily Rogers from Assemblyman Wes Chesbro's office said she was present to listen carefully. Heidi Dickerson, representing Congressman Mike Thompson, read a statement from Congressman Thompson describing his work for good fishing policy in Washington and saying that he heard people's concerns about the MLPA process.
Other speakers included Jim Martin, West Coast Director of the Recreational Fishing Alliance and Mendocino County Fish and Game Advisory Commissioner, Allan Jacobs, retired scientist and community activist, and Larry Knowles, from the Mendocino Seaweed Stewardship Alliance.
It is clear from the big showing in Point Arena that while Packard-foundation funded Big Green “environmental” groups are collaborating with Governor Schwarzenegger to kick seaweed harvesters and fishermen off the water at Point Arena to open the door to offshore oil rigs, wave energy projects and corporate aquaculture, local fishermen, Native Americans and real environmentalists are united in opposition to Schwarzenegger’s MLPA corporate greenwashing process.

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