Two California gray whales died in gill nets off Los Angeles County this week, just as organizers of an initiative campaign that would outlaw the nets within 75 miles of the coast are beginning their final drive to qualify for the 1988 state ballot.
"We've got 150,000 signatures," said Ken Kukuda, a Newport Beach magazine publisher who began the drive last year. "We need 590,000 signatures, but historically all initiative campaigns that make the ballot get 80% of their signatures in the last 30 to 45 days. Our deadline is April 12."
County lifeguard spokesmen confirmed the deaths of the whales, one a young adult about 25 feet long, the other a 15- to 20-foot juvenile. Both were found off the Palos Verdes-Redondo Beach area, entangled in gill nets.
Pete Wallerstein, Pacific director of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, said identification numbers on the nets that killed the whales had been cut off.
"This happens all the time," he said. "The gill net fishermen return to their net, find it's killed a whale, then cut their license ID number off and leave. They know the gray whale is an endangered species and it's a $1,500 fine for entangling one. We've had over 40 whale entanglements off Southern California since 1980, about half of which resulted in dead whales, and not one prosecution.
"The nets are also killing sea birds, seals and dolphins, and it's getting worse all the time."
Bill Meistrell, Hermosa Beach dive shop owner, found the smaller whale Wednesday morning while taking his boat from Redondo Beach to dry dock at San Pedro.
"It was right in front of our boat," he said. "It was floating belly up, sea gulls all over it, with a big bunch of net tangled on its tail. It was ripe; it had been dead for some time."
Lt. Sonny Vardeman of the Los Angeles County Lifeguard Dept. said his department knew of "about a half-dozen" whale entanglements with gill nets since Nov. 1.
Tony West of San Pedro, vice president of the California Gillnetters Assn., said that his organization has been meeting lately to find ways to reduce whale-net encounters.
"We're looking at several things, such as a stronger anchoring systems," he said. "We're also going to stop setting nets near points during the whale season, moving farther off the coast and coming up with some kind of breakaway panel system, so that a whale would become entangled in only part of a net.
Kukuda's petition would put an initiative on the ballot outlawing gill nets, trammel nets "or any other entangling net" in ocean waters within 75 miles of the coast.
Two long-term investigations by state game wardens have produced dramatic results.
Last week, after a seven-month undercover operation, wardens arrested 15 people suspected of illegally selling sport-caught fish. Arrests were made in Los Angeles and Imperial counties, and the charges carry maximum penalties of six months in jail and $1,000 fines.
Wardens found evidence of widespread illegal sales of large quantities of corvina, sargo, tilapia, catfish, grass carp, black bass and striped bass to markets in Los Angeles, San Diego and Riverside counties. The fish were taken illegally from the Salton Sea and the New, Alamo and Colorado rivers.
Undercover wardens were able to buy more than 1,000 pounds of the illegal fish on some days, according to the Department of Fish and Game.
Last month, after a 15-month undercover investigation, 34 arrests were made for illegal possession or sale of such species as bear, deer, raccoon, mountain lion and bobcat.
Citizens with information on poaching or other fish and wildlife violations may advise the DFG by calling 1 (800) 952-5400 between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m., Monday through Friday.
A color shot of a great blue heron has won first prize in the California Fish and Game Commission's 1986 photography award program for Bev Steveson of Bakersfield.
Steveson will receive a replica of a perpetual trophy that will be displayed in the state Capitol. She also will be invited on a DFG field trip.
"It takes a lot of patience to photograph animals," Steveson said. "The morning I took the picture of the blue heron, I was sitting near the bushes and he flew near me. I guess I was just lucky that morning."
Southern California's Super Bowl for fly fishermen, the Federation of Fly Fishers' annual conclave at the Amfac Hotel in Los Angeles, is scheduled April 4-5. More than 2,000 fly fishermen are expected.
The Fish and Game Commission voted tentative approval last week of 1987-88 hunting regulations but decided to delay until until next month a ruling on a proposal for a mountain lion hunt.
The Department of Fish and Game has asked for issuance of 210 lion permits, spread over five large areas of the state.