The Marine Life Protection Act, or MLPA, started as AB 993, a bill passed by the California legislature in 1999, early in Governor Gray Davis’ ill-fated term. Davis, who would later become the first and only California governor ever to be taken out of office by recall, was caught up in the aftermath of the Enron scandal that saw energy rates nearly triple for some consumers. Corrupt Bush/Cheney era power officials had artificially manipulated supply and demand on the power grid in real time. When the dust finally settled, California found itself under a new Governor: muscleman and action/adventure film star Arnold Scwartzenegger.
Authored and introduced by San Francisco Assemblyman Kevin Shelley in February 1999, the MLPA was passed some six-months later by a roughly two-to-one margin in the state Assembly and Senate. Shelley moved up in California politics to become Secretary of State, and held this office during the gubernatorial recall. But he resigned in disgrace from politics soon after, amid scandals of mis-appropriations of campaign funds, and accusations of a hot and abusive temper. His campaign financier Julie Lee was indicted and finally found guilty in 2008, of a laundry list of serious state and federal corruption charges, including embezzlement, mail fraud, grand theft, forgery etc. She was ultimately sentenced to jail. The people of California never voted on Shelley’s bill.
Despite being authored by this politician mired in corruption, the MLPA was adopted by some as a well-meaning but ill defined attempt at co-ordinating California’s fisheries management laws, with new scientific ideas about preserving the marine environment through the use of closed areas, called marine reserves. In the original bill, these areas specifically prohibited all human activity within them that would harm or disrupt the marine environment. Though AB 993 was clearly intended to protect the ocean from all disruption and human activity, the focus of proponents became the issue of fishing and food gathering in state waters.
Tomorrow: More History of the MLPAI