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North Coast Residents Voice MLPA Concerns in CA

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Residents of California’s North Coast are getting a chance to comment on the controversial Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) today at a hearing convened by the Legislative Joint Committee on Fisheries in Eureka.

State lawmakers should get an earful, given the opposition the project has received so far. Assembly member Wesley Chesbro (D-North Coast), chairman of the Joint Legislative Committee on Fisheries and Aquaculture, scheduled the hearing for 10 a.m. Jan. 21, in the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors Chambers, Fifth and J streets, in Eureka.

Chesbro said he wanted residents’ input ahead of the Fish and Game Commission meeting in February, when the proposal will be weighed in Sacramento.

“It is critical we hold a local hearing in advance so that North Coast residents who can’t travel to Sacramento have a voice,” Chesbro said. “I intend to take what I hear from constituents in the local community at Friday’s hearing and relay their suggestions and concerns to the Fish and Game Commission when it meets.”

The Marine Life Protection Act was passed by the legislature and signed into law by Gov. Gray Davis in 1999. The administration of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger privatized the MLPA process in 2004 when it allowed a private corporation, the Resources Legacy Fund Foundation, to fund the implementation of the process.

The Blue Ribbon Task Forces that have overseen the implementation of the creation of so-called marine protected areas have included an oil industry lobbyist, marina developer, real estate executive and other corporate operatives with numerous conflicts of interests. Catherine Reheis-Boyd, the president of the Western States Petroleum Association who has repeatedly called for new oil drilling off the California coast, was chair of the South Coast task force and sat on the North Coast and North Central Coast panels.

Advocates of true marine protection have criticized the MLPA initiative for taking water pollution, oil spills and drilling, corporate aquaculture, military testing and other human uses of the ocean other than fishing and gathering off the table in the creation of “marine protected areas” along the California coast.

In July 2010 more than 300 people, including members of 50 Indian Nations, fishermen, immigrant seafood industry workers and environmentalists, peacefully took over an MLPA Blue Ribbon Task Force meeting in Fort Bragg to protest the violation of tribal rights under the MLPA.

“Whether it is their intention or not, what the Marine Life Protection Act does to tribes is systematically decimate our ability to be who we are,” said Frankie Joe Myers, Yurok Tribal member and Coastal Justice Coalition activist, on the day of the protest. “The MLPA process completely disregards tribal gathering rights and only permits discussion of commercial and recreational harvest.”

The MLPA Blue Ribbon Task Force on Dec. 10 rejected an amendment that would have effectively terminated Tribal gathering and fishing rights on the North Coast, under political pressure from the Yurok Tribe and other North Coast Indian tribes.

Governor Jerry Brown and Natural Resources Secretary John Laird have not indicated yet whether or not they will continue Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s fast-track MLPA Initiative.

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North Coast residents, including Indian Tribal members, fishermen, seaweed harvesters and environmentalists, have strongly criticized the MLPA process for its violation of tribal fishing and harvesting rights, citing numerous conflicts of interests and corruption of the democratic process. In contrast with the Central Coast, North Central Coast and Southern California coast regions, the stakeholders on the North Coast approved a unified single proposal for marine protected areas.

That proposal will be considered at the Fish and Game Commission meeting on Feb. 2 and Feb. 3 at the Resources Building Auditorium, 1416 Ninth Street, Sacramento.

The North Coast MPA Study Area starts at Alder Creek near Pt. Arena in Mendocino County and runs up to the Oregon border, encompassing the entire coasts of Humboldt & Del Norte counties.

State Senator Noreen Evans, who represents Humboldt and Del Norte counties, was scheduled to attend the hearing, according to Chesbro’s office. State Senator Doug LaMalfa, who represents Del Norte County, will send his Crescent City field representative, Scott Feller, to attend the hearing. Evans and LaMalfa both serve on the Fisheries Committee.

A traditional native prayer by Cheryl Seidner, an elder of the Wiyot people, opened the hearing, followed by an introduction by Chesbro and an overview of the Protection Act by MLPA Initiative staff.

Eureka fisheries consultant Adam Wagschal will detail the unified proposal for the North Coast Marine Protected Area.

Members of a Native American panel, consisting of several North Coast tribes and tribal organizations, are expected to testify. The speakers will include Thomas O’Rourke, chairman of the Yurok Tribe; John Corbett, Yurok Tribe senior attorney, and Mike Belchik, Yurok Tribe biologist.

Other tribal representatives set to speak include Jacque Hostler, the chief executive officer of Trinidad Rancheria, and some of his colleagues; Dale Miller, chairman of the Elk Valley Rancheria; Stephen Kullmann, director of the Wiyot Tribe’s environmental department; Nick Angeloff, tribal historic preservation officer for the Bear River Band of Rohnerville Rancheria; Hawk Rosales, executive director of the InterTribal Sinkyone Wilderness Council; Atta Stevenson of the California Indian Heritage Council, and Valerie Stanley, representating the Noyo River Indian Community.

Participants in the Regional Stakeholder Group and members of the Blue Ribbon Task Force will also speak. This panel includes local elected officials and representatives from the fishing community and environmental groups.

The hearing will close with a public comment period.

“Everyone who wants to will have an opportunity to comment,” Chesbro said. “I urge all who have an interest in the Marine Life Protection Act and how it is implemented on the North Coast to attend this hearing and make their voices heard. We want to hear from everybody.”