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OUTDOOR NOTES : Fishing Industry Already Feels Bite of Regulations

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The tuna are coming, but will Southland fishermen be around to catch them? And if so, how many will they be able to keep?

Those questions are still being asked as summer approaches without the agreement so many were hoping for between Mexican officials and the San Diego sportfishing industry regarding recent restrictions on the take of tuna in Mexican waters.

Under new regulations, fishermen are allowed only two tuna a day and no more than six on long-range trips. Previous regulations allowed five a day and 20 on long-range trips.

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Unless Mexico relaxes its position, San Diego’s fleet--the largest in the world--will feel the pinch in a big way. The landings for years have relied on the tuna in Mexican waters, and on the dollars spent by fishermen who will probably spend their money elsewhere if the new restrictions are strictly enforced.

Bob Fletcher, president of the San Diego-based Sportfishing Assn. of California, headed a delegation to Mexico City last month to plead the case for San Diego, and to point out that Mexico figures to lose heavily--on license fees and permit sales--should San Diego’s boats be forced elsewhere.

But more than a month has passed since Mexico announced the new regulations and its government has not responded. And as the summer tuna season approaches, reservations are not coming as they normally would and many of those already made are being canceled.

“I think it’s put a damper on the whole industry,” said Frank LoPreste, owner of the Royal Polaris and Royal Star.

Fletcher, meanwhile, left for Mexico City on Tuesday for more meetings with officials. Accompanying him this time is Barney Thompson, a San Diego-based consultant on Mexican-American affairs.

“It’s (another) attempt to try to educate some people down there about why I think they are making a mistake and how it will affect their own sportfishing opportunities, as well as severely restrict our operations, if not eliminate some of the guys,” Fletcher said.

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According to the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission in La Jolla, the yellowfin tuna resource is healthy and being fished “at an optimum rate.”

Congressman Randy (Duke) Cunningham (R-San Diego) said the matter was of “utmost emergency,” especially considering that Mexico and the United States are working toward a free-trade agreement.

In a letter to Mexican President Carlos Salinas de Gortari and the Mexican ambassador to the U.S., Cunningham said the new regulations “spell death for the long-range sport fishing industry in Southern California” and added that the “seemingly arbitrary action by Mexico, against American businesses appears to confirm the arguments made by anti-free traders that Americans will not be treated with good faith by Mexico.”

The regulations are supposed to apply to American and Mexican fishermen but many north of the border are claiming that the new rules are intended solely to drive the San Diego fleet from Mexican waters and that the Mexican operators will have little trouble getting around them.

A spokeswoman for one San Felipe outfit that runs weeklong trips to the Midriff Islands in the Sea of Cortez answered a telephone query on the matter with the response: “Those rules don’t apply to Mexican vessels and we are a Mexican vessel.”

Briefly

COMMISSION--The Fish and Game Commission, which was operating with the minimum three commissioners, bolstered its roster by one with the appointment of Frank D. Boren, a past president of the Nature Conservancy, a group that has helped the Department of Fish and Game acquire property for recreational use and one that isn’t pro- or anti-hunting. Boren, a Republican, fills one of two vacancies left by the expiration of Robert A. Bryant’s term and the death of John A. Murdy. His appointment is subject to State Senate confirmation. The final appointment is due any day.

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BAJA FISHING--Striped marlin have concentrated off Palmilla Point in Cabo San Lucas, where “warmer water and plentiful bait seem to be the main factors” of an improved bite, according to Darrell Primrose of the Finisterra Tortuga fleet. Primrose said 45 trips during the first week of May resulted in more than 100 marlin being caught and released. Gary Tremper of Cypress accounted for six of those. Mako sharks to 100 pounds and small yellowfin tuna are adding to the variety.

San Diego boats traveling to the islands off southern Mexico are reporting limits of yellowfin tuna--new Mexican limits of two per day, six maximum--to about 100 pounds and wahoo averaging 40 pounds. At the East Cape, marlin are present and just beginning to bite. Dan Hernandez of Prime Ticket’s Fish-On program returned May 2 and said a band of red water offshore was clearing and conditions were improving. Inshore, he said, roosterfish were teeming between hotels SPA Buena Vista and Punta Colorada.

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