For the final installment of Teach a Man to Fish new feature, "Seven Questions For..." I interviewed Marcela Gutierrez, who was in her last week as Wildlife Conservation Program Manager WiLDCOAST.
I first met Marcela online and learned of the work she was doing, of her accomplishments before I met her at the International Boston Seafood Show (IBSS) where I conducted the Teach a Chef to Fish panel.
When you meet Marcela Gutierrez in person, it’s hard not to be surprised. She’s probably no more than 5’2” or 5’3”, young and pretty soft-spoken. Why is that a surprise? When you learn all that she’s accomplished it seems incredible, but maybe that’s just the slacker in me talking. Marcela left the bluefin tuna industry -- I'll wait while you hiss -- after reading the report that predicted total collapse and empty oceans in 50 years. She wanted to become part of the solution, the conservation solution.
I caught up with her only this week as we look forward to some unprecedented changes in California, changes that will protect the beautiful and fragile coast.
Me: Tell me about the work you do with WiLDCOAST?
MG: I work to make the marine conservation movement more inclusive, to ensure that it serves all the populations it should. We’re creating leadership, environmental leadership for the community for the next generation.
When I came to do this work I had left a part of the seafood industry that was responsible for bluefin tuna farming. When I read the paper that suggested if we didn’t change our ways, the oceans could be empty by 2048 I felt strongly that I had to make a change. I went abroad for a while but when I came back I wanted to be part of the building new solutions, new space, new community around ocean conservation. I use my marketing and PR skills to get people involved. That's why I call it 'running a political campaign for the environment."
Me: Tell us about Marine Protected Areas?
MG: The MLPA Marine Life Protection Act identifies areas for special protections. The adoption hearing is happening on December 15 when 5 California Fish and Game Commissioners vote on the plan to be adopted. The stakeholder group positions have been debated, refined and ultimately we hope the IPA will be adopted. That's the Integrated Public Alternative. It was the result of 100s of hours, 1000s of people, 1000s of letters.
The IPA or Integrated Preferred Alternative is a recommendation to the State of California to establish Marine Protected Areas for Southern California’s coast. Marcela, while working with WiLDCOAST spent hundreds of hours, canvassing in various communities using detective-like skills to find the individuals who held the most influence. Then she engaged them to bring awareness in the affected communities of the opportunity they had to have a voice in how these beautiful and delicate public resources are managed.
As of this writing (December 15) is the day when the 5 commissioners will meet and vote. We are on tenterhooks awaiting the news. [ed note: see this link for the release about the vote - it passed and Marcela is quoted!]
Me: What is the IPA?
MG: It's a way to integrate all the individual areas and the protection of them. Check out the CalOceans website for the best info.
I did - here it is:
The IPA “would establish an enduring legacy for Southern California by protecting some of its most biologically important, iconic coastal habitats – places like Point Dume; Palos Verdes; Laguna Beach and La Jolla. Ensuring long-term restoration and protection of these areas is important for conservation but also for southern California's coastal tourism based economy.
Protecting the spectacular kelp forests and rock reefs in southern La Jolla will ensure a healthy marine ecosystem for the more than 2 million annual visitors who come to dive, surf, and snorkel.”
Essentially the whole thing mandates redesign of biologically linked network of MPAs. Marcela worked to ensure that the process was inclusive and that the populations' needs, present and future were met.
Me: I see a lot of kids on the website, is working with kids an intentional part of your programming and why?
MG: My goal, our goal is to create long-term stewardship so outreach to children is my goal. As many as 8,000 kids in East LA were involved in the MLPA process. They were working on letters, on doing outreach, getting petitions signed. At one point realized that many of them had never seen the ocean they were working so hard to protect! We got help from USC to organize a field trip to the beach. We took a boatload of kids scuba diving, kayaking, etc. Ultimately, people protect what they love, they can’t protect what they don’t know.
It's been really hard work for three years and it's a cliche but it's true, when you see the kids, it's all worth it!
Me: Tell me about working in Southern California, in Los Angeles - did you find people in these communities connected to conservation?
MG: In much of my work I would find I was the only native Spanish speaker. In many instances, I was translating documents to be reviewed and assessed by the stakeholder group, doing outreach, translating the outreach materials for the Fish & Game commission and traveling throughout Southern California.
Me: If you were the first one doing this outreach and translating these materials, how did you find the right people, the influential ones? A lot times in community organizing it's not elected officials or other obvious leaders. Did you find this to be true?
MG: A lot of times I found, even in Southern California I'd be the only one doing outreach in Spanish-speaking communities. LA has a vibrant and active community but it's not the same in other towns. I would go into those and literally, drive around looking for Latinos. I'd look for record stores like Rhythmo Latino and Catholic churches with services in Spanish and just start asking people "Who do I need to speak to" "Who gets things done here?"
Like Oxnard, that was a good example, and other places in Orange County, I'm driving around looking for Mexicans. I spent time getting to know the people and figure out who was interested. Oxnard was particularly hard. Everyone said I had to speak to the same girl who at 15, and as an immigrant, organized against the LNG plant that was excavating in her town. It was already approved and underway, but people were getting sick. She got them to relocate the plant. She's now 19 and at Stanford but I found here and she understood the importance of what I was working for and told me who to connect with back in Oxnard.
It's like Civics 101 for many new citizens, how do you organize? Whom do you petition? How do you ensure the community gets a voice?
Me: What advice do you have for people just beginning to think about sustainable seafood? Why should someone whose never thought about this bother?
MG: Traceability. That's the key. In California we are working on a California Sustainable Seafood label. It will be akin to the MSC label and will give California something to promote and market sustainable seafood with, like the California cheese, avocado, we'll have a way to showcase what we're doing in California around seafood and sustainability.