Outer Limits, a commercial sportfishing vessel out of Los Angeles Harbor, ran aground on the east end of Catalina Island early Sunday with 15 passengers aboard. No passengers were injured, authorities said, but a crew member was hospitalized after he fell while climbing a cliff to look for help.
This brought the number of serious accidents involving passenger fishing boats to at least five since September 1989, not counting Tuesday morning’s incident in which a commercial fishing vessel sank after hitting the San Pedro breakwater.
According to Sgt. Bob Wachsmuth of the Los Angeles County Sheriffs Dept., the 65-foot Outer Limits, one of the Southland’s more popular sportfishers, struck a submerged rock at about 1:30 a.m. Sunday. Skipper Gary Norby, 56, with 30 years’ experience in local waters, told Wachsmuth he “must have dozed momentarily” just before the incident.
The U.S. Coast Guard said it is investigating the matter and has not yet placed any restrictions on Norby, but Lt. Cmdr. Peter Rennard said that possibility has not been ruled out.
“It looks like there’s going to be some fall-out from the investigation in regard to personnel action,” Rennard said. “We intend to interview many of the parties involved, including Mr. Norby.”
Norby, who could not be reached for comment, apparently had just filled the bait tanks with live squid in an area near Catalina’s Church Rock, and had set a course for San Clemente Island before the vessel hit a submerged rock.
“He put it in reverse and bumped into another rock, and that caused him to lose control of the boat,” said Wachsmuth, who arrived on the scene at 2:25 a.m. “A large swell came, picked the vessel up and placed it on the shore. When we arrived, the boat was high and dry, entirely out of the water, upright and straight on the beach. It looked like the hand of the Lord came and picked it up and put it on the beach.”
Ray Province, manager of L.A. Harbor Sportfishing, said Norby tried to radio for assistance for about an hour, before Eric Hodges, 26, of Long Beach went to look for help.
Hodges, whose only possible route was up a steep cliff, fell from about 50 feet and was later transported by boat to Avalon Community Hospital, where he was treated for a broken finger and bruises, then released.
“The crew apparently was unaware that their radio signal was being picked up,” Wachsmuth said.
Rennard, who said communications were handled through San Diego because Long Beach is not able to pick up a signal from that area of Catalina, said the situation was under control and the boat was not in danger of sinking.
“We would have responded obviously, immediately, had there been a search-and-rescue element in the case,” Rennard said. “But in this particular situation, they had 15 people plus sitting high and dry on the beach.”
Norby got through to the L.A. County Life Guard paramedics in Avalon at 1:55 a.m., andthey responded along with the Sheriff’s Dept. and Avalon City Rescue.
At the request of the Coast Guard, the Sheriff’s Dept. conducted a field sobriety test on the crew and determined that “there were no symptoms at all of any substance involved,” according to Wachsmuth.
The Sheriff’s Dept. airlifted the passengers off the beach at 9 a.m. Sunday and flew them to Avalon. L.A. Harbor Sportfishing paid for their transportation back to the landing.
Outer Limits, which is being fitted with a new propeller and shaft, suffered only slight damage to its hull.
Other incidents among the Southland fleet in the past 16 months included:
--Temptress and Aztec, carrying a total of 32 people, collided off San Diego just before dawn in September, 1989. Temptress sank, and Aztec received substantial damage. All 32 survived, with three receiving minor injuries.
--Grande 85 ran aground on a sandy stretch of the Catalina coast last August. No injuries were reported. The boat is owned by John Dipley, who previously owned Queen of the Sea, which sank with no passengers aboard last February after hitting a submerged rock. Dipley was not aboard either boat when the accidents occurred.
--Shogun collided with a tanker last February just outside L.A. Harbor, injuring seven fishermen and spilling 2,000 gallons of fuel.
Said Rennard: “There’s some indication, and it’s only an indication, that fatigue is playing a role in some of these casualties. We’re starting to take a very careful look at the human factors involved.”
HUNTING--Duck and goose seasons are over until October, and early reports indicate that the take at the state’s largest waterfowl area was up significantly over the 1989-90 season. According to Earl Lauppe of the Department of Fish and Game, hunters killed 7,824 ducks and 2,011 geese at the Imperial Wildlife Area’s Wister Unit, compared to 5,763 and 1,253 in 89-90. The number of hunters was virtually unchanged, Lauppe said.
MISCELLANY--Fishermen in Hawaii are concerned that the increase in longline fishing vessels will soon lead to decreases in the populations of several important species in the area. According to the Western Pacific Fishery Management Council, there are about 120 of the vessels based in Hawaii, up from 37 in 1987. The fleet is reportedly targeting swordfish heavier than ever, which has scientists concerned about the species’ survival. Swordfish landings by longline vessels totaled a half-million pounds in 1989, and the International Game Fish Assn. estimates that the fleet will harvest 2.5 million pounds by the end of 1991. Other species being impacted are tuna, marlin, sailfish and spearfish. . . . A bluefin tuna tagged and released off the mid-Atlantic coast in 1976 was recaptured recently off the New England coast. In 14 years, the fish had grown from 3 1/2 feet to more than 9 1/2 feet, and from between 30 and 60 pounds to 778 pounds.