Coastal Gill Net Ban to Be on Ballot, Allen Says : Politics: The assemblywoman’s grass-roots campaign has netted a million signatures, she says, with 595,500 needed to qualify. Commercial fishermen plan a counteroffensive.


Flanked by photos of mangled sea lions, Assemblywoman Doris Allen (R-Cypress) announced Monday that she and her grass-roots forces have gathered enough signatures to put on the November ballot a measure that would ban the use of controversial gill nets along the shores of Southern California.

The initiative would establish a “marine protection zone” by banning the use of the nearly invisible monofilament nets by 1994 anywhere within three miles of the coast, stretching from the Mexican border north to Point Conception, as well as within a mile of the Channel Islands off of Santa Barbara.

It would also make permanent similar prohibitions already enacted along most of the coastline in Central and Northern California.

Allen said Monday that a volunteer army--composed mostly of recreational fishing groups and a number of environmentalists--helped gather more than 1 million signatures in her $400,000 initiative campaign. The Orange County legislator convened press conferences in Sacramento, Los Angeles and San Diego to announce that she and her troops were handing in the signatures, at least 595,500 of which must be found valid for a spot on the November ballot.


If it qualifies, the initiative is sure to touch off a hotly contested and emotional campaign pitting Allen and her recreational fishing allies against the politically powerful commercial fishing industry, which owns more than 480 gill net permits for Southern California.

Already, the commercial fishing industry is marshaling its forces to raise money and run a counter-campaign against charges by Allen that the gill nets are “indiscriminate killers” that “strip-mine” the ocean and kill off hundreds of marine mammals such as sea lions, otters and gray whales.

On Monday, Allen made no bones about the fact that her successful initiative drive depended heavily on emotional pictures and descriptions of how the gill nets can mangle and kill marine mammals. One anti-gill net brochure shows one woeful sea lion with deep, red scars caused by a net.

“Yes, they are an emotional issue,” Allen said about the pictures used as props at her press conference. “Yes, they are the most visible. Yes, they are what people will react to, and that’s why we put it out.

“It demonstrates in a dramatic way what’s being done in the waters off of Southern California.”

As further proof, Allen cited the recent example of 52 dead sea lions, harbor seals and elephant seals that washed up on Coronado beaches late last month. Experts believed the animals were killed in gill nets, as were the 50 sea lions that floated to Orange County beaches more than a year ago.

But commercial fishermen say those assertions are an exaggerated, emotional smoke screen for the fact that Allen’s initiative would be a boon to recreational fishermen, who would love nothing better than to drive the competing commercial boats from coastal waters so they could enjoy halibut and other delicacies for themselves. The losers, they say, would be California consumers, who would have to pay higher prices for seafood in restaurants and grocery stores.

“It’s just a fish grab,” said Craig Ghio, chairman of the California Fisheries and Seafood Institutes, as well as president of San Diego-based Ghio Seafoods. Ghio estimated it would take at least $1 million to defeat the Allen measure.

The nets in question are monofilament nylon mesh that, used along coastal waters, are strung together in panels and weighted on the bottom so they unfurl up to 6,000 feet long. Commercial fishermen like the highly efficient net, which gets its name from the fact that it traps and suffocates a fish by its gills.

But the nets have also resulted in “incidental” kills of several other kinds of marine life, including the endangered or threatened species of gray whales, marine birds, harbor porpoises and sea otters. Reported deaths of those animals have resulted in piecemeal closures of Central and Northern California waters to gill-net fishermen over the years.

Yet Southern California remains open to gill nets, where fishermen inadvertently kill up to 3,400 sea lions and 600 harbor seals annually. Since those animals are not listed as endangered, state fishing officials have declined to institute similar gill net bans south of Point Conception.