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Fishermen Say Ban on Nets Would Doom Way of Life

May 20, 1990|CLAY EVANS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A proposed ban on using gill nets for near-shore fishing in Southern California has been a hot topic of discussion in recent days at Canetti's Seafood Grotto, the traditional early-morning gathering place for San Pedro fishermen. Many fear that the proposal, if it becomes law, could end their decades-old way of life.

"We get accused of raping the ocean," said Joe Cracchiolo, president of the Los Angeles Fisherman's Cooperative Assn. in San Pedro. "But we are environmentalists too. To kill fish, that is our business, but we more than anyone want to maintain the health of the ocean."

The initiative would bar the use of the nearly invisible monofilament nets by 1994 within three miles of the coast between the Mexican border and Point Conception. Gill nets, which kill fish by immobilizing them, have been blamed for the deaths of non-game fish and mammals in recent years.

Cracchiolo and others admit that the nets kill sea lions and an occasional gray whale, but they say that sea lions are not endangered in this area and that their numbers are growing. They also admit that about 25% of what they catch can't be sold and is thrown overboard. But they say much of that is alive.

Local fishermen say there are about 250 men who fish commercially out of San Pedro and that many of them use gill nets, particularly for halibut. Although there are alternatives to gill nets, such as lines and more visible nets, halibut are not easily caught by those methods, the fishermen say.

If gill nets are prohibited, Cracchiolo and others say, some local fishermen will be forced out of business.

Environmentalists counter that the nets kill indiscriminately and threaten the near-shore marine ecosystems.

"They are not efficient. They are simply cheap and wasteful," said Scott Trimingham, president of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, an international ocean preservation group.

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