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Jerry Karnow Exposes The Insanity Behind Schwarzenegger's MLPA Process


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Are MPAs  ”Marine Poaching Areas?” 

by Dan Bacher 

In a superb opinion piece in the Sacramento Bee on January 31, Jerry Karnow, Legislative Liason for the California Fish and Game Wardens Association, exposes the insanity behind Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s fast-track Marine Life Protection (MLPA) process. 

Karnow emphasizes that the MLPA process is proceeding forward at a time when California has the “lowest ratio of wardens to population of any state or province in North America ( 

The lack of wardens has made California into a virtual paradise for poachers of fish and wildlife, as revealed in James Swan’s ground breaking documentary, Endangered Species: California Fish and Game Wardens (2009). The movie is an expose of the extreme shortage of game wardens in California and its impact on fish, wildlife and wild lands. 

“It is impossible for the warden force to effectively enforce existing regulations, much less new regulations that the Fish and Game Commission approves over our objections,” says Karnow. “Many of the regulations approved by the commission will not protect the natural resources of California. They will serve only one purpose; they will stretch the warden force ever thinner, which will eventually result in another warden’s on-duty injury or death.” 

Karnow says the association has taken “no policy position on the Marine Life Protection Act.” 

However, Karnow says the act is “a hollow regulation and unenforceable. The Department of Fish and Game has reported to the commission that enforcement cost for the Marine Life Protection Act for the first year of implementation will be $27 million and annually thereafter, the cost for enforcement will be a minimum of $17 million.” 

“While it seeks to design Marine Protected Areas, my warden colleagues have a different meaning for ‘MPA’ – we call them Marine Poaching Areas,” says Karnow. “Since the protection act closes productive fishing areas, poachers will know where to rape our resources, and they will know that there is unlikely to be any law enforcement presence or legal anglers present to turn in poachers.” 

Karnow has harsh words for the Governor, who has relentessly pushed the MLPA process on the fast track against the strong objections of a broad coalition of grassroots environmentalists, fishing groups, Indian Tribes, environmental justice advocates and North Coast cities and counties. 

“The governor does not support wardens; his actions speak louder than words,” explains Karnow. “He says he supports wardens but his Department of Personnel Administration opposes the warden request for severance from their current bargaining unit. He keeps wardens on furlough yet eliminates furloughs from non-sworn peace officers in our own bargaining unit.” 

“Commissioner Richard Rogers of Fish and Game has approved new regulations knowing they cannot be enforced…Hopefully, Rogers will change his position and oppose regulations placing additional duties upon wardens,” says Karnow. 

In testimony before the Fish and Game Commission on August 5, 2009, Karnow warned the Commission that the DFG couldn’t enforce new “Marine Poaching Areas” on the North Central Coast when it didn’t have enough staff to patrol existing marine reserves. 

“We request you delay or suspend any new mandates until there is some relief from furlough officer to enforce these significant new provisions,” said Karnow. 

At the same meeting, Lester Pinola, the past chairman of the Kashia Rancheria in Sonoma County, appealed to the Commission to adopt a MPA alternative that wouldn’t kick the Pomo and other tribes off their traditional seaweed, mussel and abalone harvesting areas. 

“We as tribal members abide by the state fishing regulations, even though are we a federally recognized sovereign nation,” Pinola said. “We observe the bag limit of 3 abalone and 45 pounds of seaweed when we pick the rocks. We feed our elders who longer can go down to the ocean to harvest abalone and seaweed. The state shouldn’t be able to take our traditional harvesting rights away from us.”