NOTES : Busy Game Wardens Face Impossible Task

Much was said when the state Department of Fish and Game and the Fish and Game Commission got together in San Pedro last Thursday for their historic open "workshop," but after the meeting, the consensus was that serious problems remain in the area of marine enforcement.

Wardens are too few and too restricted, priorities seem to be scrambled and bureaucracy compounds the problems, according to testimony.

The five-member commission, attempting to learn why the DFG is not doing a better job in marine enforcement, was deluged with facts and figures indicating the obvious--that the department's 384 sworn officers are simply insufficient for a state with a population of 28 million.

"The wardens are are not always able to respond in the timely fashion that our constituents would like us to respond," enforcement chief DeWayne Johnson said. "There simply aren't enough wardens and patrol captains to effectively enforce all of the laws all of the time."

However, the state's wardens are under strict guidelines that limit their effectiveness, and according to testimony, they are not always available when the law is being broken.

The Garcia Decision of 1985 basically restricts wardens to a 40-hour work week with no overtime. "Obviously, we're going to be less responsive," said Gordon Cribbs, patrol chief for Region 5, which includes Southern California and the Eastern Sierra.

When interviewed last winter, warden Bill Ynclan, now working in the Sacramento area, said that because of the decision, "It's very hard to keep tabs. We're on call 24 hours, but we're mandated by federal guidelines that say principally that we can work only a 40-hour work week. Beyond that we start getting into paid overtime, and unless we have an ongoing investigation or an emergency, we need authorization to go beyond our 40-hour work week."

There was testimony that the DFG recently took three days to respond to calls made by several concerned citizens while gill-netters systematically (and illegally) pulled fish from Santa Monica Bay. There were allegations that the patrol boat Hammerhead has sat idle instead of going on patrol, and that it spent more time carrying Boy Scouts to Catalina Island than enforcing the law.

One person told the commission: "There's a lot of things going on that aren't being monitored." He said it doesn't make sense to have "a warden stationed at Newport Harbor checking people for 13-inch sand bass and 21-inch halibut (both illegal by an inch) when he could be spending his time patroling fish markets and looking at what's coming off the boats--looking for things on a grander scale--something that's a lot higher priority."

Former DFG director Bob Fletcher, now president of the Sportfishing Assn. of California, testified that "a terrible injustice is being done" because the state constitution mandates that resources be maintained and protected to a healthy level, with adequate funds, even if it means public funding through the legislature, not just by those who buy fishing licenses.

Ken Kukuda, publisher of South Coast Sportfishing magazine and an outspoken critic of the DFG, said the commercial fishing industry should be paying more to protect resources--an observation that has been made several times in the past, to no avail.

Finally, Commissioner Al Taucher, who lives in Long Beach, broke the commissioners' silence and said: "I think the (people) in the hierarchy (of the DFG) need to be educated more, because I've personally had experiences where I have seen flagrant violations. I came in and I called (Executive Secretary Harold) Cribbs. He called his brother (Gordon Cribbs), and his brother called me and told me he didn't have time to answer all those calls."

Taucher, apparently angry at the department after hearing the testimony, offered his office phone number for anyone unable to get a response from the DFG after witnessing violations--(916) 445-5708.

"The commission office is always open," he said. "I have the ability to call the governor if there is a serious problem."

There appears to be one now.

The Trans-Antarctica Expedition, with six explorers from different countries, expects to reach the South Pole Monday despite considerable physical and logistical difficulties.

A DC-6 supply plane has not performed up to expectations in delivering food caches and fuel for the group's smaller standby rescue plane along the 4,000-mile route. The DC-6 has burned much of the fuel itself getting there. But the Soviet Union is flying 12 tons of fuel to the pole in an Ilyushin 76 aircraft to assure the expedition of enough supplies to complete the traverse from the pole to Vostok across "the Area of Inaccessibility."

Because of poor weather and additional mechanical problems with the DC-6, 11 journalists were stranded at the expedition's Patriot Hills base camp for two weeks until they could be flown out.

Briefly

Hunting: the second half of Southern California's duck season begins today; band-tailed pigeon season is scheduled for Saturday through Dec. 24. Mike Mathiot, Quail Unlimited regional director, urges hunters to avoid the eastern Mojave Desert this year because of low populations caused by prolonged drought.

Water officials have closed the California Aqueduct to fishing from the Tehachapi Mountains to Lake Silverwood until next February for maintenance projects. The work is expected to have little effect on reservoirs receiving water from the State Water Project, but aqueduct fishing sites will be closed.

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