Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA)

Tom MarkingMarine Protected Areas

From the HASA 2009 Winter Newsletter

What is it, and why should I care?

Some of you have been hearing this acronym (MLPA) being tossed about in the news and on the web sites. If you haven’t really paid attention…you might want to tune in a little closer. While this is a somewhat complicated process I’ll try to provide a relatively straightforward explanation of this legislative law and how it may affect you personally.

The Marine Life Protection Act was passed by our Legislature in Sacramento back in 1998 as a marine management tool to provide habitat protection for the marine environment and tie together a collection of existing marine reserves, preserves, parks and areas with closures or restrictions. It was tossed into the lap of the Department of Fish and Game (DF&G) for development and enforcement…but without any funding. It was originally estimated to cost about $250,000 to implement, but due to a lack of funding it was never developed nor implemented. It languished for about a decade.

The Legislature had written within the law that the process could be contracted out if necessary, if the DF&G was not able to manage this workload. A few years back the Legacy Foundation, comprised of about five private foundations, negotiated an agreement with DF&G to help develop the law and have it implemented. Our current Governor was pleased to see this group step forward with money (about $18 million) and offer their services. Thus, the Marine Life Protection Act Initiative (MLPAI) was born. Under this Agreement the Initiative develops the process of public outreach, science advisory teams and regional stakeholder groups, produces a plan(s) to be presented to the Fish and Game Commission for action. Upon adoption by the Commission, it is subject to various legal requires and public review prior to becoming Law.

Because the State is so large the Initiative broke up the State into five boundary areas, we being the North Coast Area from Point Arena to the Oregon Border. The Central Coast, the North Central Coast and the South Coast Areas have completed their process and the Commission has adopted their plans. We are early into the process with the completion of our plan scheduled for the fall of 2010. The San Francisco Bay Area will be the last. It is a heavily regulated process involving many meetings and legions of people from all sorts of interest groups, each with their own perspective.

The structure

The Governor appoints a slew of individuals that oversee this process, starting with the Secretary of Natural Resources, the Fish and Game Executive Director and Commissioners, the Director of the Department of Fish and Game and others. The Blue Ribbon Task Force (BRTF) is appointed by the Secretary and they oversee the MLPAI process. The BRTF provides recommendations to the Commission, who make the final decision. Beneath the BRTF are many advisory committees who assist in the design of the MLPA plan. Some of these committees are required by law while others are by choice.

The North Coast is currently in the initial stages of developing a plan. There are two key groups to help develop the Plan: a Science Advisory Team (SAT) and a Regional Stakeholder Group (RSG). Both groups are appointed by the Natural Resources Secretary (or a surrogate) and work in a cooperative manner to develop areas and restrictions to meet the requirements of the Act. The plans (or proposals) will be eventually forwarded to the Blue Ribbon Task Force that will present these to the Fish and Game Commission for adoption. The members of the SAT and RSG are selected after a nomination and interview process. All these processes and meetings are held in public forums with lots of input, comments, agreements and disagreements over the structure and content.

To explain the Act itself

The purpose of the MLPA is to delegate certain portion of the marine environment as protected areas to maintain biological diversity. Related issues are coastal growth, pollution and human intervention that threaten biodiversity. Currently, there is a loose collection of marine preserves, state and federal parks and other areas with various restrictions on take or use. The Act requires these existing areas be integrated into a statewide marine network (Master Plan) by providing additional Marine Protected Areas (MPA’s) to accomplish the goals of biodiversity protection. This is accomplished by describing certain types of marine habitat (soft bottom, rocky bottom, pinnacles, canyons, sandy etc.) to be designated with various levels of protection. “No take” areas are designated as the highest level of protection. Certain types of activity can be allowed, like crabbing or fishing for migratory species, on a case-by-case basis. These areas have to meet certain guidelines of size, spacing and species protection. These areas are all within the three-mile offshore limit of State regulated waters. (Beyond three miles is under Federal Regulation.) That may sound reasonable and simple to do, but is in fact quite contentious and difficult to accomplish.

Over this next year the local conservation, environmental, fishing groups and associations, the Native American Tribes, fish processors, and interested individuals will all be working together to define a proposal(s). The Science Advisory Team and the Regional Stakeholder Group will be the two key groups formulating these proposals to be sent to the Blue Ribbon Task Force. The BRTF will accept, modify or add MPA’s prior to presentation to the Commission for consideration and adoption.

How does this affect us?

Here is where the rubber meets the road. Based upon size, spacing and restriction within these Marine Protected Areas, fishing, diving, abalone collections and/or all uses could be curtailed. Since the guidelines required spacing between 30 to 60 miles apart with 9 to 18 square miles in each area, and preference is given to no-take for the highest level of protection, substantial areas could be shut off for public use. That may mean no fishing or take of clams, abalone, mussels, scallops or seaweed will be allowed. Indeed, any human activity deemed to be detrimental could be made illegal. These areas will include hard and soft bottom areas, kelp areas, lagoons, estuaries, river mouths, off shore pinnacles, rocky mounts etc. Depending upon spacing and interpretation of the guidelines, substantial amounts of area could be closed for use within Humboldt Bay, estuaries and off shore areas.

Other effects

We are in an area of rocky points connected by large stretches of sandy beaches with five major rivers and many lagoons. We are further hampered by wind and weather conditions for access to the Cape Mendocino, Trinidad and north, or areas very far from any one of our ports in our region. Due to spacing requirements, a quick look at a map immediately causes concern for the For Bragg area, Cape Mendocino, Trinidad and Crescent City fishing areas. These reef and rocky areas, due to spacing and habitat type, are going to be considered for inclusion into MPA’s that could severely or totally restrict all take of any marine organisms. That will have a dramatic affect on our ability to fish and may have substantial economic impact on our area.

If you are interested in fishing, clamming, diving or any coastal use of marine resource you should stay connected to this process over the coming months. The Regional Stakeholder group will be appointed in February and the process will begin in earnest. The local area has already formed a Tri-County Group under the banner of the Harbor Commission to bring the local tribal, environmental and fishing groups to the table to start working on this endeavor. There are many disparate groups that are making a noble effort to work together to meet the terms of the law and not economically damage our region. Mendicino, Humboldt and Del-Norte counties have been working together in a collaborative manner to resolve this State mandate upon our North Coast region. It is critical that you inform yourself of this process and make your concerns or suggestion known to the RSG. To that effect watch for meeting dates on the Humboldt Tuna website and make a commitment to work with us over this next year on this very difficult and critical process.

I hope this helps in your understanding of the MLPAI process. There is much more than what has been presented, but this should give you the basics of the Act and what is going on in this area. Please get involved during this year and protect your fishing privileges and help protect our local economic structure.

Tom Marking
HASA member