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Mendocino County Asks for More Local Representation on MLPA Panel

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Mendocino County Asks for More Local Representation on MLPA Panel 

by Dan Bacher 

The Mendocino County of Supervisors has told state officials overseeing Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's controversial Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative that more representation of the diverse interests found in the county is needed on the Regional Stakeholder Group (RSG). 

"We are concerned that the slate of RSG appointees for Mendocino County does not adequately represent the diverse interests of our county," said Carre Brown, chair of the Mendocino County Board of Supervisors, in a February 9 letter to California Department of Fish and Game Director John McCamman and MLPA Blue Ribbon Task Force Chair Cindy Gustafson. 

"The appointment of additional stakeholders, representing critical interests which currently appear underrepresented or completely omitted, will ensure that a more comprehensive cross-section of our community is able to participate in this process. This enhanced diversity will ultimately lead to a better final product," Brown stated. 

Brown pointed out that the RSG appointments for Mendocino County now include 3 educators, 3 tribal representatives, 1 ornithologist, 1 commercial fisherman, and 3 individuals with experience in seaweed harvesting, sea urchin diving and processing, and recreational fishing. 

The stakeholder group will work with a blue ribbon task force, science advisory team, and MLPA staff "to help California improve the design and management of the north coast portion of a statewide network of marine protected areas," according to Annie Reisewitz from the MLPA Initiative. 

Brown charged that the southern portion of the County "has no representation." She urged McCamman and Gustafson to appoint RSG nominees, Mike Carpenter and Bruce Campbell, both of Albion, since they "have met or exceeded the RSG selection criteria." 

She also criticized the lack of commercial fishing representatives from Mendocino County. After receiving many letters from local residents, the MLPA staff finally appointed Jim Bassler, a commercial fisherman from Fort Bragg, to the panel on February 6. 

"Even with the MLPAI's recent nomination of Jim Bassler, there is limited Mendocino County representation for commercial crab, salmon, and nearshore permit holders," said Brown. "Stakeholders with this unique background have invaluable knowledge regarding seasonal trends in fish and invertebrate populations (abundance and distribution), and rare oceanic events typically experienced only by individuals actively working in the commercial sector." 

She urged the two officials to appoint RSG nominee Tom Estes, a commercial groundfish and large boat crab fisherman, to fill this gap in representation. 

Finally, Brown noted that Del Norte and Humboldt County Harbor District are represented on the RSG, while Mendocino County's Noyo Harbor District is inexplicably not. 

"This representation on the RSG could be attained through the appointment of Jim Burns, Noyo Harbor Commissioner, or a similar delegate," she said. 

The Fort Bragg City Council on February 10 also sent a letter to Gustafson and McCamman requesting them to appoint a member of the RSG from the Albion area. "Four persons from that port followed the nomination process set out by the MLPAI, and all were passed over," wrote Doug Hammerstrom, Mayor, Dave Turner, Vice Mayor, Meg Courtney, Council Member, Dan Gjerde, Council Member, and Jere Melo, Council Member. 

The Council disputed the MLPA staff's claims that the process is "open and transparent," when they believe the process is in fact plagued with a lack of transparency and bias. 

"The MLPAI staff has repeatedly praised the process as being public and open," the letter stated. "Yet there are many deviations from the announced process. For the North Coast RSG, a specific process with deadlines was established for nominatinos, interviews and appointments." 

The Council emphasized that this process was not used in the appointment of some RSG members, pointing to "a lack of transparency and bias that undermines the integrity of the entire MLPA." 

"This is a very serious problem," they concluded, "and the MLPAI will continue to suffer from a lack of public trust until a truly open and public process that considers local communities is imposed." 

The stakeholder group currently includes total of 32 residents of Del Norte, Humboldt and Mendocino counties within the MLPA North Coast Study Region, which encompasses state waters from the California-Oregon border to Alder Creek near Point Arena in Mendocino County. The first meeting of the stakeholder group was held in Eureka on February 7 and 8. 

North Coast environmentalists, fishermen, Indian Tribes and seaweed harvesters have strongly criticized the MLPA process for being rife with conflicts of interests, mission creep and corruption of the democratic process. Many believe that Schwarzenegger and his collaborators are using the MLPA Initiative to remove tribal seaweed gatherers, recreational anglers, commercial seaweed harvesters and commercial fishermen, the greatest advocates for the preservation and restoration of ocean fisheries, to clear a path for offshore oil rigs, wave energy projects and corporate aquaculture. 

The MPLA, a state law passed in 1999 with support from a broad coalition of environmentalists and fishermen, has under Schwarzeneggger become a surrealistic parody of marine "protection," with oil industry, real estate, marina development and other corporate interests overseeing the process, critics of the initiative charge.

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