Marine Reservations

Tribes seek a bigger voice in the state's effort to protect marine habitats


The Trinidad Pier. Photo by Heidi Walters
  • The Trinidad Pier. Photo by Heidi Walters

Another round of Marine Life Protection Act Initiative meetings takes place this week on our very own North Coast stomping grounds, including sessions in Eureka at the Red Lion Hotel as well as a field trip to Trinidad for a sit-down with the Trinidad Rancheria at the Seascape Cafe on the pier.

And it's that Trinidad meeting that's potentially perplexing. Last month, the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) passed a resolution demanding that the state of California conduct formal government-to-government consultations with the tribes of Northern California "in Order to Ensure the Protection of Tribal Subsistence, Ceremonial and Cultural Rights in the Implementation of the State Marine Life Protection Act."

The MLPA is the state law passed in 1999 that requires a revamping of the state's marine protected areas (MPAs) and creation of new ones to form a coherent statewide network of whole marine habitats -- what proponents liken to underwater parks, and what opponents liken to potentially lost fishing grounds. Some MPAs would allow some fishing; others would not. The MLPA Initiative is the public-private partnership that's coordinating the development of these MPAs region by region; the state's coastline has been divided into five regions for the process.

The North Coast region, from the California/Oregon border to Alder Creek at Point Arena, just started the process this summer. So North Coasters have been studying keenly what's happened elsewhere, including to some tribal fishing grounds south of here. In Sonoma County, for instance, the Kashia Pomo Tribe lost access to traditional seaweed, abalone and mussel gathering grounds that are included in a new marine reserve.

Here on the North Coast, the Yurok Tribe has 50 miles of ancestral territory along the coastline that could be affected, said Shaunna McCovey, the Yurok Tribe's deputy executive director and self-governance officer, by phone on Tuesday. Gathering grounds of the Tolowa Tribe, in Del Norte County, the Wiyot in Eureka and numerous small tribes along the Mendocino Coast likewise could be impacted.

But McCovey was cautious regarding the NCAI's resolution. She said while her tribe supports the idea of it, the MLPA is a state process and the state can't legally consult government-to-government with tribes. Besides, she said, the state has been listening -- likely because the North Coast tribes got together.

"What we realized was that in all of these regions that the MLPA Initiative has been in before, there wasn't a whole lot of representation [from tribes]," McCovey said. "We realized that up here the tribal voice needed to be much stronger."

A coalition of North Coast tribes, led by the Yurok Tribe, has met informally with state officials, including Department of Fish and Game Director Donald Koch, and with MLPA Initiative staff several times since the process began early this summer -- at general public meetings as well as at tribal coalition meetings.

"When we first started meeting with the state, I don't think they had any concept of the strength of the voice of the tribes in the North Coast region," said McCovey. Now they do, she said.

Jacque Hostler, director of transportation and land use for the Trinidad Rancheria, on Tuesday called the NCAI's resolution an excellent idea and said formal consultation would recognize previous tribal agreements. But she, too, said formal consultation might be difficult to achieve, and perhaps isn't necessary.

Hostler, who along with fisherman Mike Zamboni has been nominated by the Rancheria to be on the regional stakeholder group for the North Coast MLPA process, said the Trinidad Rancheria has been involved in the MLPA process from the start: talking with fishermen, going to Humboldt Bay Harbor, Recreation and Conservation District meetings, taking part in the tribal coalition.

"The Rancheria owns the harbor businesses -- the pier, the Seascape Restaurant, the boat launch and the gift shop," Hostler said. "And we purchase crab and fish from the fishermen for our restaurant. So we have a large stake, together with the fact that we are a federally recognized tribe and we have subsistence and gathering and hunting and fishing rights."

She and McCovey said the tribal coalition hopes to come together with other regional stakeholders and present one proposal to the state for the MPAs. They have until Feb. 1 to do so.


This Wednesday, Nov. 19, the newly appointed Blue Ribbon Task Force for the MLPA North Coast Study Region will hold its inaugural meeting, at 9:30 a.m. at the Red Lion Hotel in Eureka. On Thursday, the task force will go on a field trip. It begins at 8:30 a.m. at the Red Lion, may take in a stroll at the Friends of the Dunes' headquarters in Manila, weather permitting, and will conclude in Trinidad. The meeting and field trip are open to the public.


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