Sports anglers may soon be cast adrift

By Tom Stienstra
San Francisco Examiner
October 22, 2000

REMEMBER the Wizard of Oz? Remember how the Wizard hid behind a curtain and then created illusion, smoke and bellowing speeches to fool Dorothy and Co. into meek obedience?

Well, just like the Wizard, a few government spin doctors are doing the same thing right now to the people of California.

When you clear away the smoke, this is what is going on: The biggest fishing shutdown in history along the California coast is about to be rammed down your throat in order to cover up 25 years of failure to restrict commercial netters and long-liners.

The government is proposing to close sportfishing for rockfish for four to six months a year along the central and northern California coast, and to reduce the limit to as low as three rockfish per person (and no higher than nine) and one lingcod.

For 25 years now, fishermen, wildlife lovers and hard-core enviros alike have protested how commercial fishermen have tried to clean out the ocean. The commercial boats often drag nets that are like vacuum cleaners, hang gillnets that are miles long, and set miles-long lines with thousands of hooks. In the process, they have killed marine birds, sea otters, marine mammals, juvenile fish, and non-target fish species in their mission to kill every rockfish they can get their mitts on.

Each year, commercial fishermen take 85 to 90 percent of the catch, leaving sport anglers for the rest. Though fast-growing rockfish are flourishing, others that are slow-growing, such as canary rockfish, cow cod, and bocaccio, are being fished out by the netters and long-liners.

This is what is logical: Since the commercial boats do 90 percent of the damage, they should be shut down 90 percent of the time. And if sport anglers are responsible for 10 percent of the catch, they could stand being reduced 10 percent of the time. From last year's sport limit of 15 and year-round season, that would mean a 13-fish limit and 11-month season.

And doesn't it make sense that the first people who should be pulled off the water are the netters, who have the ability to kill everything in their path? That's not how the Wizard sees it.

Under the proposal, while the sport anglers get shut down, the drag netters would be allowed to continue to try to clean out our coast. The Wizard argues that new commercial quotas will reduce the harvest by 50 percent, and that severe sportfishing cutbacks are necessary in order to "share the pain," the mantra of the Pacific Fisheries Management Council.

Share the pain? Your worst enemy has caused a train wreck, and yet you -- the healthy one -- are scheduled to have your legs amputated. And remember the line from the Wizard of Oz: "Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain."

You have one chance to defeat this. At the end of this month, Oct..31 to Nov..3, the Pacific Fisheries Management Council will hold a hearing in Vancouver, Wash., then review data and options, and make their decision -- a landmark moment.

To make the deadline for public comment, write by Tuesday to: PFMC, 2130 SW Fifth Avenue, Suite 224, Portland, Oregon 97201, fax them at (503) 326-6831, or access their Web site at, where an e-mail link is available at You can copy me at