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The Oil Industry’s “Marine” Reserves


So-called marine protected areas (MPAs), created under the leadership of a big oil lobbyist, went into effect today, January 1, in Southern California ocean waters from Point Conception in Santa Barbara County to the U.S./Mexico border. 

Representatives of the Department of Fish and Game, corporate “environmental” NGOs, the Western States Petroleum Association, Safeway Stores and other supporters of the privately funded Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative have reason to celebrate the beginning of the New Year with the implementation of these questionable “marine protected areas.” 

Walmart Chairman Rob Walton, who has dumped millions into groups supporting the MLPA Initiative and similar efforts to privatize the oceans worldwide, is no doubt very pleased also with the implementation of this network of 50 MPAs. 

This network includes 13 pre-existing MPAs retained at the northern Channel Islands and two special closures covering approximately 354 square miles of state waters and representing approximately 15 percent of the region. 

In contrast, fishermen, grassroots conservationists, environmental justice advocates, civil liberties activists and those who care about openness and transparency in government and oppose the privatization of the public trust view January 1, 2002 as a dark day in California history. Unlike representatives of Wall Street-funded NGOs, respected environmental leaders including John and Barbara Stephens-Lewallen fiercely oppose the privatized MLPA Initiative overseen by ocean industrialists and corporate operatives. 

There are five points that are key to understanding the truth about the alleged “marine protected areas” that went into effect in Southern California waters today. 

First, these “marine reserves” were created by the MLPA “Blue Ribbon Task Force” for the South Coast chaired by Catherine Reheis-Boyd, the president of the Western States Petroleum Association. Reheis-Boyd is a big oil industry lobbyist with an egregious conflict of interest in the designation of MPAs, considering that she has repeatedly called for new oil drilling off the California coast and the weakening of environmental regulations, as well as supporting environmentally destructive Canadian tar sands drilling. She was the proverbial “fox” in charge of the “hen house.” 

Second, the MLPA process was overseen not only by an oil industry lobbyist, but by a marina developer, coastal real estate executive and other corporate operatives and political hacks with numerous conflicts of interest. 

Third, in a parody of true marine protection, these fake “marine protected areas” fail to protect the ocean from oil spills and drilling, pollution, military testing, corporate aquaculture, wind and wave energy projects and all human impacts on the ocean other than fishing and gathering. 

Fourth, the MLPA Initiative that created the MPAs is privately funded by the shadowy Resources Legacy Fund Foundation, setting a bad precedent for the privatization of conservation and the public trust in California.

Five, the California Fish and Game Wardens Association has opposed the creation of new marine protected areas until sufficient funding to patrol the existing ones is found. This is why rank-and-file game wardens refer to the MPAs as “Marine Poaching Areas.” 

Jeff Krieger, avid Southern California kayak angler and conservationist, sadly noted two weeks before today’s closure, “I’m going to kayak fish and visit the Point Dume area this weekend and say goodbye, since this area closes on January 1. This not a victory for the 99%! It is more like a water grab by the 1%, in my mind!” 

“People need access to sustainable ocean food for nutritional health and our livelihood,” commented John Stephens-Lewallen, the North Coast environmental leader who co-founded the Ocean Protection Coalition and North Coast Seaweed Rebellion and has been a vocal critic of the MLPA process. “We can’t let these areas, closed by a corrupt private process, keep us from exercising our fundamental rights and duties to have access to sustainable food from the ocean.” 

“The MLPA is the beginning of the privatization of our natural resources in California where, in an underhanded and illegal way, the decisions have been taken from the people and put into the hands of the ocean industrialists,” said Barbara Stephens-Lewallen, John’s wife and co-owner of Mendocino Sea Vegetable Company. 

Those who believe in environmental justice, democracy and true, wholistic marine protection – as opposed to privately funded green washing – are committed to fighting the MLPA Initiative through litigation and exposing the numerous conflicts of interest and violations of state and federal laws. 

A recent appeal of an unfavorable court ruling gives California’s fishing and boating community renewed hope for overturning regulations imposed under the privately funded Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative. Coastside Fishing Club, one of the three petitioners in litigation before the San Diego Superior Court challenging MLPA regulations adopted by the California Fish and Game Commission for the North Central Coast, filed an appeal with California’s 4th District Court of Appeal on December 15. 

Coastside’s appeal arises from the denial by Judge Ronald Prager on October 17, 2011 of its request for a Writ of Mandate voiding MLPA regulations adopted by the commission for California’s North Central Coast in 2009 based on legal defects in implementing California law. After a careful review, Coastside concluded that Judge Prager’s ruling is inconsistent with the mandates of the law as established by the legislature. 

“It’s in the best interests of all Californians that our state’s laws be implemented in a fair and even-handed manner as the legislature directs,” said Rick Ross, Coastside’s president. “Coastside intends to pursue this legitimate goal through all available legal means. We strongly believe in the merits of our case, and the appeal process provides a fresh opportunity to have our claims considered in a different forum.” 

The outcome of the appeal of Judge Prager’s ruling on the North Central Coast regulations would likely influence the resolution of a similar challenge to the validity of the South Coast regulations brought in the same lawsuit by Coastside’s co-plaintiffs, United Anglers of Southern California and Robert C. Fletcher. 

To donate to the litigation against the MLPA Initiative, go to:

Dan Bacher can be reached at:

Dan Bacher is an environmental journalist in Sacramento. He can be reached at: Dan Bacher

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