Hansen: State's no-fishing rule stinks

When fishing as a boy, I used to stare at my jar of salmon eggs and marvel. I wondered how they could arrive so perfectly formed and opaque and inherently controversial — stripped from their host like corn off a cob.

Years later as a reporter covering tribal fishing rights in the Pacific Northwest, I learned a lot more about salmon eggs, types of salmon, salmon hatcheries, salmon fillets, Copper River salmon (yes, they are worth the price) and how to properly paint a salmon-colored wall.

So it is with great interest I read about how the state of California basically will ban fishing off Laguna Beach starting Oct. 1 (Coastline Pilot, "State's 'no fishing' rule starts in fall," July 8).

There are some activities in life — fishing, hunting, reading a paper, purchasing certain goods and services — that are closely tied to "inalienable rights." People get emotional when you take them away.

There are also times when those activities become at risk due to overuse.

The truth is often somewhere in the middle.

Unfortunately, in our day, it takes lawsuits to figure it all out, and that's what will happen here.

Several different groups, including the Partnership for Sustainable Oceans, United Anglers of Southern California and Coastside Fishing Club, are asking the court to set aside regulations established through the state's Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative.

"The validity of these regulations is being challenged in court," said Mike Leonard, ocean resource policy director for the American Sportfishing Assn. "That battle is far from over. Much can happen between now and Oct. 1."

The groups' arguments are largely over procedure; they cite the alleged influence of environmental groups in the formation of the new law, along with accusations of violating the California Environmental Quality Act.

But they also said in a prepared statement that they are fighting for "everybody who enjoys fishing in our state's ocean waters, whether from surf, pier, powerboat or kayak."

"We are also protecting the interests of all those who treasure open access to our ocean and the coast, from sport divers and surfers to swimmers and beachcombers," the statement said. "We also represent the interests of businesses tied to recreational fishing and boating, such as tackle shops, fuel docks, hotels, marinas and boat dealerships."

On the other side are environmentalists and government agencies, trying to keep healthy stocks of marine life.

The estimated financial impact of the ban for commercial fishermen out of Dana Point is about 20%, according to state documents. For recreational fishermen, the range is 3% to 30%, depending on the fish. Some estimates are higher.

Those relying on lobster, calico bass, white croakers and California sheephead will see the most financial impact.

Members of fishing groups are not happy, understandably.

"These environmental groups have played a major role in influencing the MLPA initiative towards excessive and unnecessary fishing closures through a seriously flawed process," said Bob Fletcher of the Sportfishing Assn. of California and former chief deputy director of the California Department of Fish and Game. "Throughout the MLPA process, anglers have had the deck stacked against us due in large part to the deep pockets of these pro-closure environmental organizations."

To be fair, the fishing groups did have representation on the state committee that helped shape the new law, but what is surprising is how little concessions they seemed to have received.

It would not have happened this way in the Pacific Northwest, for a couple of reasons.

First, there are ancient and impossible-to-overturn Native American treaties that demand almost unfettered fishing rights, often at the chagrin of "local" fishermen.

Second, the fishing industry and related lobbying groups are probably more powerful than Amazon, Microsoft and Starbucks combined.

Speaking of Native Americans, where are they in this local fight? The Juaneño Indians, who have fished these coastal waters for 10,000 years, have not commented on the new law. The most significant tribal protests have come from the Yurok tribe in Northern California, the state's largest tribe with 5,500 members.

"The Fish and Game has taken an unjust and patronizing step," Yurok Tribal Chairman Thomas O'Rourke Sr. said in a statement. "No one can separate these resources from our culture."

The state believes it is doing the right thing by protecting marine resources and allowing species to replenish.

I wonder, however, how a boy with a fishing pole is going to hurt anything. This is not Japanese whalers slaughtering whales; this is not shark fin soup. This is a murky, heavy-handed law with questionable restrictions.

Pardon the expression, but something is fishy here.

DAVID HANSEN is a writer and Laguna Beach resident. He can be reached at davidhansen@yahoo.com.

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