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On an ocean bluff above a resting seal and relentless waves, Kashia Pomo leaders Friday voiced opposition to new state rules that prohibit harvesting fish and other sea life at Stewarts Point.

The rules, which take effect today, establish a series of state preserves intended to help restore California's marine ecosystems.

But to the Indians with ties to Stewarts Point, the fishing ban there harms their culture, their ceremonies and the transmission of traditions to future generations.

"Today I'm going to tell you they are interfering with our religion," Violet Parrish Chappell, a Kashia Pomo elder, told Indians and supporters who came together just up the road from the Stewarts Point Store. "And I don't think they would do that to the Catholic Church."

About 130 people stood Friday in bright sun and constant wind on a ranch owned by the Richardson family, which settled the area 130 years ago and controls about 15,000 acres.

Arch Richardson, an elder among the family's 85 descendants, invited leaders from the Stewarts Point Rancheria to bless the bluff and to mark the last day when fishing was permitted there. About a half-dozen tribal members harvested abalone in the nearby surf earlier in the day.

At noon, as young and old gathered, ospreys and pelicans passed north over the blue ocean.

Richardson was a regular at the meetings that began three years ago to set aside protected marine areas off Sonoma County. He became a strong opponent of the final plan to place a preserve along seven miles of coastline from the south end of Sea Ranch to Salt Point State Park. He said the end of fishing there is "a hard thing to deal with."

The state Fish & Game Commission last summer approved the Stewarts Point marine preserve and 20 other protected coastal areas. They did so despite strong opposition from some recreational fishermen and business people who depend upon them.

The new regulations affect 20 percent of the coast from Half Moon Bay to Point Arena, including a complete ban on fishing for 10 percent of that total area. The state Legislature called for such protected areas in 1999 when it passed the Marine Life Protection Act.

After two failed attempts to craft regulations, a collection of non-profits put up $20 million to bring together different "stakeholder" groups to help propose the preserves and other restricted areas. Meeting are now being held in the region from Point Arena to the Oregon border as part of an effort to develop a system of preserves there.

Richardson repeatedly said that Friday's gathering was not a protest. Nonetheless, several speakers said state officials and the wider public need to understand the impact of the preserve on the Kashia Pomo.

Eric Wilder, a former tribal chairman, told the group "we're going to continue to fight" to modify the ban.

He recalled as a boy fishing with his father and grandfather. "It's hard for me to take that my kids, our kids, aren't going to have that experience," said Wilder, whose mother, elder Vivian Parrish Wilder, was present Friday.

What remains in dispute is how much effort was made to avoid the current conflict.

Richardson told the group he had repeatedly voiced concern to officials about how the proposal would affect the Kashia Pomos. And some tribal members suggested their pleas had fallen on deaf ears.

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But Ken Wiseman, executive director for the group that oversaw the creation of the preserves, said his group in the beginning had invited the Kashia Pomo leaders to send a representative to sit on the stakeholder committee. He maintained that the tribe did not do so and none of the leaders from other tribes had raised concerns about a preserve at Stewarts Point.

The issue didn't arise until last spring before the state Fish & Game Commission, he said, by which time commission members were "hesitant to change the delicate balance" of a preserve system crafted by a committee.

Wiseman said the state and his staff have worked hard to respect the Indian traditions and gathering practices, "which is what we thought we had done" for the section of coastline that includes Stewarts Point.

The stakeholders group meeting for the area north of Point Arena has seven tribal members on it, compared to two for the area to the south, Wiseman said. He suggested that both the tribes and the state have sought to learn lessons from the Stewarts Point experience, and the northern effort may yet provide the state with language to address the Kashia Pomo concerns.

Indians Friday said efforts are underway with both state and federal officials to modify the ban. They urged one another to help change the rules.

"We want our food back," said Chappell. "We want our seaweed. We want our kelp. We want our abalone."

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