Other voices: Are legislative leaders fish-flopping on us?
Assembly Speaker John Perez (D-Los Angeles) recently made a “once in a lifetime” visit to the North Coast to meet with a small group of environmentally minded Mendocino Democrats.
Perez was there at the invitation of local legislators, Assembly members Noreen Evans and Wes Chesbro. And he also came to enjoy local seafood.
On the list of topics discussed were the high-handed tactics being used by the state’s consultants to rush through a complex, top-down Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA).
The local Democrats expressed concern that instead of focusing on real and emerging threats of new oil drilling, wave energy and other forms of industrial uses of the ocean and the ever present threat from degraded water quality, marine protected areas (MPA) are instead only targeting subsistence, recreational and commercial fishing – critical elements of the local economy and culture.
Speaker Perez sympathized with the local attendees by sharing a concern regarding the city of Maywood in his district where citizens get blue, green or tan water from their taps – rendering it undrinkable. Certainly, those present surmised he knew that MPAs are being pushed in Southern California where they also just punish fishermen without any attention to real ocean threats, like water quality.
Assembly members Evans and Chesbro also understand the questionable implementation of state law. They shared concerns about the process, incomplete science, and inappropriately focused priorities.
The locals felt like they had been heard.
But not so fast. It turns out just days before his trip to the North Coast, Speaker Perez had sent a letter to the Fish and Game Commission advocating for the “strongest possible” MPAs knowing, one presumes, that it simply meant the most expansive restrictions on fishing and fishing related small businesses and jobs.
However, the real question local voters need to ask is, did their local legislators know that the Speaker was misleading their constituents and do they agree with their leader or with their constituents?
The Speaker’s letter repeats worn out PR spin about restoring fish resources, protecting ocean health, and using the best science. But the facts simply don’t support any of his statements.
As early as 2005, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) documented that no over-fishing was going on in the Pacific Northwest and several fisheries that had previously experienced overfishing were on the rebound.
More recently in 2009, world renowned researchers Boris Worm and Ray Hilborn led a team examining fisheries worldwide and concluded that fisheries off California are among the best protected in the world and that good management here was, in fact, pushing fishing efforts to areas in the world with poor management protection.
Closer to home, the California Department of Fish and Game reports no state fisheries are in crisis. And the science team advising the MPA effort concluded that MPAs will have negligible and uncertain value to fisheries, but significant and predictable costs.
Realizing that MPAs only regulate already well-regulated fishing, one wonders what MPA proponents, and what Speaker Perez, are talking about when they claim MPAs are critical to protect the ocean. It simply isn’t so!
Perez says he understands there are serious ocean threats other than fishing and yet he calls for adoption of the most expansive anti-fishing MPAs. He recognizes that best available science should be used and yet MPAs do not use some of the science most pertinent to California.
Does Speaker Perez know or care about any of this? Those of us meeting with him earlier this summer thought he did, until we discovered his letter advocating for an excessive MPA system.
So what’s a voter to do? Maybe we’ll add an extra splash of oil and a dash of brown water to Speaker Perez’s plate the next time he comes to Mendocino for fresh local seafood.
Jim Martin is a Trustee of the California Fisheries Coalition and the West Coast Regional Director of the Recreational Fishing Alliance. He has been engaged in the MPA adoption process since 2004.
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