The North Coast was well represented at the Fish and Game Commission hearing on the Unified Proposal for designated marine protected areas along the Del Norte, Humboldt and Mendocino coastline.

The area’s elected representatives, State Senator Noreen Evans and Assemblymember Wes Chesbro, were among the speakers urging the commissioners to approve the Unified Proposal, the first of its kind in the MLPA process.

”This is what we call a ‘Kumbaya moment’,” Evans said. She described the process of the Regional Stakeholder Group that developed the proposal as one “where people generally at odds with one another had come together” to support both tribal rights and the environment. It was, she said, “an opportunity to do something wonderful.”

Chesbro, now chair of the Joint Legislative Fisheries Commission, noted that fewer people are fishing here and have less impact on the fisheries than in other parts of the state, that the biggest threat to North Coast stocks come from poaching and illegal takes, two areas not addressed by the Marine Life Protection Act. He urged support for the Unified Proposal without any changes.

Humboldt County Supervisor Jimmy Smith, a member of the Blue Ribbon Task Force, noted that he had been a commercial fisherman for years and worked for restoration. Four of the proposed closures are in his district. Smith said the science guidelines were flawed because they failed to address cumulative impacts. He called the Unified Proposal a “perfect solution to an imperfect situation.”

But the most startling presentation came at the beginning of the meeting when newly appointed State Secretary for Natural Resources John Laird said he was working on an administrative fix that would recognize the sovereign rights of Native Californians and create a way for tribal groups to continue their traditional practices while maintaining desired levels of protection.

Laird said that he had consulted with legal experts and had determined that “we can honor ongoing tribal uses while satisfying the concerns of the Attorney General and his staff.”

He said he saw “a unique moment in time to address a unique issue.”

The overwhelming preponderance of testimony given at the Sacramento hearing was in favor of the Unified Proposal, but some members of the Fish and Game Commission expressed concern that the proposal does not satisfy the Science Advisory Team’s guidelines.

Commissioner Michael Sutton said he was concerned about the failure to meet the guidelines. He said that it’s been shown that fisheries collapse when science is ignored.

Speaking for the Science Advisory Team, Dr. Eric Bjorkstedt called the Unified Proposal “an imperfect solution.”

Commissioner Daniel Richards called the staff reports inadequate and complained that they only presented limited data by looking at negative impacts and ignoring the positive impacts of protected areas.

Sutton agreed, saying he had a “pet peeve” about economic analyses that “paint an incomplete picture.” He wanted them to include potential benefits as well as potential losses.

The commissioners also had problems with the idea of “co-management” of resources suggested by Supervisor Jimmy Smith. Smith said that in Humboldt County, agencies are already working with tribal groups in the management of resources. Commissioners wanted a definition of how co-management works.

A large number of tribal representatives and Stakeholder Group members traveled to Sacramento for the hearing and the public testimony took over two hours. The Commission was criticized for not allotting the same amount of time to tribal leaders as they had to government leaders, but tribal leader Priscilla Hunter of the Intertribal Sinkyone Wilderness Council found something good to say about the process. She thanked the Commission and the MLPA for having brought the tribes together.

The public testimony also criticized the process for ignoring “tribal science.” A representative of the Coastal Justice Coalition said that a process that didn’t include humans as part of nature was inherently flawed.

The question is now in the hands of the Commission, which will meet again in March.

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