In her guest opinion in the Eureka Times-Standard on June 29, Former Democratic Assemblywoman Virginia Strom-Martin claimed that Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s fast-track Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative is “the most open and transparent process” that she has ever been involved with.
However, a historic protest the same day by over 40 activists from the Yurok, Karuk, Hoopa Valley, Tolowa, Cahto and other tribes at the MLPA Science Advisory Team meeting in Eureka exposed Strom’s claim for the falsehood that it is. They demonstrated how the only thing “open” about the process is the open, racist disregard by MLPA officials for tribal gathering and fishing rights.
The MLPA team attempted to meet without allowing any public testimony, but Frankie Joe Myers, a member of the Coastal Justice Coalition and Yurok Tribe ceremonial leader, went to the microphone and demanded that the panel open up a public comment period. The panel was prevented from proceeding as they were interrupted by chants of “Keep your laws off my culture” and “M-L-P-A taking Tribal rights away.”
The MLPA officials conceded and members of North Coast Tribes and non-native supporters then provided powerful testimony demanding tribal representation on the science panel and exposing the hollowness of the claim that the process is “open and transparent.”
Tribal members held up signs and banners stating, “MLPA Can’t Hide the Genocide,” “MLPA making my grandmother an outlaw,” “Respect Native Tradition,” “Fish and Game, You’re Lame,” “Don't Mussel Us Out” and “MLPA I Am Not Your Stakeholder.”
The activists demanded that tribes, who have been the stewards of the ocean for thousands of years, not be scapegoated for the decline in ocean fisheries caused by decades of government mismanagement.
“We gathered and harvested the ocean’s bounty for thousand of years in a sustainable manner,” said Myers. “For California to blame tribes for its reckless mismanagement of our fisheries for the last century is simply appalling.”
The science panel met for two days to review four MPA proposals developed by the North Coast Region Stakeholder Group. All of these have the potential to impact the rights of the Yurok Tribe and other tribes to gather ocean resources.
“The Science Advisory Team, which could potentially influence decisions regarding tribal gathering rights, does not have any scientific evidence suggesting that tribal gathering affects resources, but that has not stopped them from proposing a ban on tribal practices,” according to Myers. “We asked them to show us the science that indicates that Tribes are to blame for the decline of any single species — they can’t because there is no science behind their decision making.”
Strom-Martin also proclaimed in her article, “My fellow (MLPA) task force members share a mutual interest in ensuring that traditional tribal uses of the ocean are preserved.”
However, local tribal members say that the task force’s actions contradict their claims. “If she was really concerned about preserving tribal practices, maybe Ms. Strom-Martin should ensure tribal members and tribal scientists are involved in the process,” suggested Myers.
The tribal members affirm that they will keep gathering and fishing in traditional areas, regardless of what MLPA or state officials decide.
“Tribes have always had the inherent right to gather — whether the state makes it legal or not is their choice,” said Georgiana Myers, Yurok Tribal member and organizer for the Klamath Justice Coalition. “The Yurok Tribe has been gathering since the beginning of time. We have always done it, we will always do it, and we feel that the MLPA is the biggest attempt in the last 30 years to take away tribal gathering and fishing rights.”
Rather than being an “open and transparent” process, the truth is that Schwarzenegger’s MLPA Initiative is a privately funded process overseen by oil industry, marina development, real estate and other corporate interests. Rather than truly protecting the ocean as the landmark law originally intended to do, the MLPA Initiative under Schwarzenegger has completely taken water pollution, habitat destruction, oil drilling, wave energy projects and all other human uses of the ocean other than fishing and seaweed harvesting off the table.
I have a series of questions to ask Strom-Martin, the former Assemblywoman for District 1 and now a member of the Blue Ribbon Task Force (BRTF) for the MLPA North Coast Study Region, and other proponents of Schwarzenegger’s MLPA process.
Why is Strom-Martin, a former Democratic legislator, now collaborating in the implementation of the failed ocean policy of Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, the worst Governor for fish and the environment in history? This is the same Governor has presided over the unprecedented collapse of Central Valley chinook salmon, Delta smelt, longfin smelt, green sturgeon, striped bass and other fish populations.
Why did the Governor and MLPA officials install an oil industry lobbyist, a marina developer, a real estate executive and other corporate interests as “marine guardians” to kick Indian Tribes, fishermen and seaweed harvesters, the greatest defenders of the oceans, off the ocean?
Why is Catherine Reheis-Boyd, the president of the Western States Petroleum Association, allowed to make decisions as the chair of the BRTF for the South Coast and as a member of the BRTF for the North Coast, panels that are supposedly designed to “protect” the ocean, when she has called for new oil drilling off the California coast?
Why has the Initiative shown no respect for tribal subsistence and ceremonial rights? This is an overt 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 (http://www.iwgia.org/sw248.asp ).
Why did MLPA staff until recently violate the Bagley-Keene Act and the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution by banning video and audio coverage of the initiative’s work sessions?
Why do the MLPA Blue Ribbon Task Force (BRTF) and Science Advisory Team continue to violate the California Public Records Act by refusing to respond to numerous requests by Bob Fletcher, former DFG Deputy Director, for key documents and records pertaining to the MLPA implementation process?
Why does the initiative discard the results of any scientists who disagree with the MLPA’s pre-ordained conclusions? These include the peer reviewed study by Dr. Ray Hilborn, Dr. Boris Worm and 18 other scientists, featured in Science magazine in July 2009, that concluded that the California current had the lowest rate of fishery exploitation of any place studied on the planet.
Why do MLPA staff and the California Fish and Game Commission refuse to hear the pleas of the representatives of the California Fish and Game Wardens Association, who oppose the creation of any new MPAs until they have enough funding for wardens to patrol existing reserves?
Finally, why is a private corporation, the shadowy Resources Legacy Fund Foundation, being allowed to privatize ocean resource management in California through a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the DFG?
“It is only by working together that we can ensure a healthy ocean and successfully teach future generations to be good stewards for our precious community assets,” Strom-Martin gushed in her article, “MLPA: A more holistic approach to protecting our ocean resources.”
How can she possibly conclude that a privately funded initiative filled with so many conflicts of interest and violations of numerous laws will result in a “healthy ocean?”
Rather than writing articles filled with generic, unsubstantiated falsehoods shamelessly greenwashing the failed ocean policy of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, Strom-Martin should wake up to the conflicts of interest, racism and violations of state, federal and international laws that infest the MLPA process and stand up for environmental justice.