Wednesday, December 8, 2010

MLPA Attempts to Ban Traditional Tribal Gathering along North Coast by Dan Bacher

A panel appointed by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to implement his controversial Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative will consider amending a motion that will, in effect, ban traditional harvesting by Indian Tribes until the legal authority to regulate the Tribal uses is clarified by the State of California and California Tribes.

This amendment will be discussed at Schwarzenegger’s Blue Ribbon Task Force (BRTF) meeting this Thursday, December 9, 2010 at 10 am via teleconference. BTRF members will be distributed between locations in Crescent City, Eureka, and Fort Bragg, in a thinly-veiled attempt to prevent a unified protest by tribes, fishermen and environmental activists.

“The MLPA is trying to ban any and all gathering along our coastline, including NO TRADITIONAL gathering whatsoever, in marine protected areas,” said Georgiana Myers, organizer of the Klamath Justice Coalition and Yurok Tribal member. “I urge people to speak out against this insane idea of taking away what is not theirs to take!”

Yurok Tribal representatives and other North Coast Tribes expressed strong opposition to the original motion four, the “Enhanced Compliance Alternative,” by Gregory F. Schem, at the October 25-26, Blue Ribbon Task Force, (BRTF) meeting in Fortuna. They did so on the specific grounds that once the BRTF started changing the unified proposal, “it would be an invitation to make further changes,” according to a draft letter to BRTF Chair Cindy Gustafson by Thomas O’Rourke, chairman of the Yurok Tribal Council.

The unified proposal, developed by Tribal, fishing and environmental stakeholders in a long and grueling process, included the recognition of traditional Tribal subsistence and ceremonial uses in a process that has been characterized by conflicts of interests, institutional racism, and the violation of numerous state, federal and international laws.

This recognition was only made possible under the pressure of non-violent direct action in Fort Bragg on July 21, when over 300 people including members of 50 Indian Nations, recreational anglers, commercial fishermen, environmentalists, and immigrant seafood workers peacefully took over the MLPA Blue Ribbon Task Force meeting to protest the MLPA’s violation of Tribal rights.

Schem claimed in a letter to Gustafson on November 16, “After initially reviewing the two documents I went back to the October 26 video and reviewed the deliberations, as the language staff developed does not appear to capture the intent of my motion for the North Coast Enhanced Compliance Alternative MPA Proposal. My intent was to provide to the California Fish and Game Commission an alternative MPA proposal that came closer to meeting the science guidelines to ensure that the statewide system of MPAs would help achieve the goals of the MLPA.”

Many feared that the task force, dominated by oil industry, real estate, marina development and other special interests, would renege on the unified proposal – and they apparently have done this by convening this meeting to amend the proposal.

“Our worst fears have already been realized,” said O’Rourke. “The proposed additional motion for BRTF consideration is: ’only include proposed allowed uses with a moderate-high or high level of protection for any MPA…all proposed uses with a moderate moderate-low or low level of protection would not be included.’”

“Almost all of the Native American traditional subsistence gathering species have been characterized as moderate or less in the level of protection,” said O’Rourke. “The net result of the motion and clarification would be the IMMEDIATE TERMINATION of Native American marine harvesting rights. The Yurok Tribe notes that you cannot fairly characterize yourself as being a supporter of Tribal Rights when your first action is to immediately terminate those Native American rights.”

“The Regional Stakeholders Group, (RSG) and Unified Proposal was a unique effort that brought consensus among all stakeholders of the North Coast Group. Such a consensus has not been achieved in any other MLPA Group area. The RSG made it very clear that they wanted a ribbon to provide for Native American harvesting. To the extent that also required recreational uses they were still in support of allowing both uses while the legislature was deliberating,” he stated.

O’Rourke noted that throughout the process the Stakeholders Group was concerned that their nearly unanimous view was not always being properly or strongly enough portrayed to the task force. With its letter, the Yurok Tribe is including a petition signed by 28 members of the RSG. The purpose of the petition was to make sure Native American uses would be continued throughout the MLPA process.

“The Unified proposal and Native American subsistence rights were supported by an amazing 31 public entities in Mendocino, Humboldt, and Del Norte Counties,” said O’Rourke. “Clearly, the proposed amendment completely changes the Unified proposal. It is ironic that there was so much praise for the North Coast Stakeholders coming up with a Unified proposal and so little adherence is now being proposed. Others areas of the State will no doubt conclude there is little value in working together to come up with a common proposal that can so easily be cast aside.”

O’Rourke said the California Fish and Game Commission has provided for a “regulatory avoidance ribbon” for both Native American and recreational uses in other MLPA regions. For example, the Commission approved a proposal to amend subsection 632 (b) (11) Title 14 CCR Re Stewarts Point Marine Reserve to allow for Tribal and recreational use at the June 24, 2010 and September 16, 2010 Commission meetings. However, this was only done under the pressure of a historic Kashia Pomo blessing ceremony that was held at Stewarts Point (Danaka) on April 30, the day before this sacred site was scheduled for permanent closure.

“After all the testimony and input from Native Americans and the support of thirty one North Group area governmental entities, the Yurok Tribe is frankly shocked that the proposed motion recommends that the North Group area have greater restrictions against Native American subsistence harvesting than has occurred anywhere else under the MLPA process,” said O’Rourke. “We believe a compelling case has been made about the number and strength of Tribes in the North Group Area and that a wise public policy would include Tribes as part of the management solution at all stages of the process.”

“To come out with an interim policy so strong against the Tribal uses is worse than if you had stated nothing. When the California Fish and Game Commission considers Native American and recreational users avoidance, as in the Central Coast Region, the Commission will have to do so against expressed opposition by the BRTF. Such specific and express opposition to Native American avoidance has not existed in any other MLPA,” O’Rourke continued.

The Yurok Tribe requests the following substitute motion be adopted: “The BRTF intends that Native American and recreational uses be continued in all North Coast Region MLPA designations until such time as the California legislature allows for separate Native American subsistence marine gathering.”

The MLPA’s panel’s attempt to terminate Tribal gathering rights is a clear violation of the American Indian Religious Freedom Act and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People.

Article 32, Section 2, of the Declaration mandates “free prior and informed consent” in consultation with the indigenous population affected by a state action ( The amendment also violates Article 26, Section 3, that declares, “States shall give legal recognition and protection to these lands, territories and resources. Such recognition shall be conducted with due respect to the customs, traditions and land tenure systems of the indigenous peoples concerned.”

The Yurok, Tolowa, Kashia Pomo, Cahto and other North Coast Tribes have harvested seaweed, mussels, abalone and other marine life in a sustainable manner for thousands of years in the inter-tidal zones of the North Coast. There is no evidence whatsover that this traditional activity has “depleted” any species to warrant closures.

Recreational anglers, commercial fishermen, seaweed harvesters and grassroots environmentalists are all appalled by the MLPA’s attempt to renege on the unified proposal and the protection of tribal rights. Jim Martin, West Coast Regional Director of the Recreational Fishing Alliance, said, “Schem’s amendment is outrageous. I have no idea what he is thinking. This amendment circumvents the local process.”

Schem, the sponsor of the controversial motion that would in effect ban tribal gathering, is no stranger to charges of conflicts of interest under the MLPA Initiative. During a Fish and Game Commission meeting earlier this year, Bob Fletcher, former Deputy Director of the DFG, claimed there was evidence that two members of the South Coast MLPA Blue Ribbon Task Force, Bill Anderson and Greg Schem, agreed “to sign off on everything else” in return for not putting a reserve in an area where both had marinas and business interests, according to Jim Matthews of

Schem and Anderson, both appointed by Schwarzenegger, are strange choices for “marine guardians” Gregory F. Schem is president and chief executive officer of Harbor Real Estate Group, specializing in marina and waterfront real estate investments, including a marina, fuel dock, and boat yard in Marina del Rey, in addition to other California assets. William (Bill) Anderson has been president and chief operating officer of Westrec Marinas since 1989. Westrec Marinas is the nation’s largest owner and operator of waterfront marinas.

Fletcher, the Partnership for Sustainable Oceans and United Anglers of Southern California are pursuing multi-layered litigation against the MLPA Initiative. On October 1, a Superior Court Judge in Sacramento issued a ruling confirming that two panels overseeing the MLPA Initiative must comply with the California Public Records Act. Judge Patrick Marlette ruled that the Marine Life Protection Act Blue Ribbon Task Force (BRTF) and Master Plan Team (MPT) are state agencies and are therefore compelled by California’s Public Records Act to share information with representatives of angling/conservation organizations working to protect recreational ocean access.

The unified proposal, including any amendments to the “enhanced compliance alternative, will be presented to the Fish and Game Commission on February 2, 2011, after Governor-Elect Jerry Brown takes office.

Georgiana Myers is urging everybody concerned about environmental justice and the protection of Tribal rights to show up at the teleconference locations on Thursday, December 9, at 10 a.m. to speak out in opposition to the task force’s attempt to terminate Tribal rights. The locations are:

Flynn Center
981 H Street
Crescent City, CA 95531

Red Lion Hotel
1929 Fourth Street
Eureka, CA 95501

C.V. Starr Community Center
300 South Lincoln Street
Fort Bragg, CA 95437

Please see the meeting agenda and the briefing documents at

For more information about the Coastal Justice Coalition and Klamath Justice Coalition, contact:
Georgiana Myers, Coastal Justice Coalition: (707) 951-5548, sregonlady [at]
Frankie Myers, Klamath Justice Coalition: (707) 951-5052