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CALIFORNIA | PREVIEW | CAPITOL MATTERS

New Bills Would Help to Ensure the Coast Is Clear

March 28, 1997

An uncommon alliance forged between the fishing industry and environmentalists has produced a number of bills aimed at cleaning up and protecting waters off the California coast.

State lawmakers returning to work Monday after a weeklong spring recess will find more than 30 coastal and marine protection bills awaiting their attention, addressing everything from squid harvesting to parkland acquisition.

The $1.5-billion commercial fishing industry in California, which is backing a number of the bills, wants to ensure its livelihood by protecting species and habitats. And environmentalists are pleased with the chance to make long-sought gains in environmental protection.

One of the biggest collaborative efforts can be found in two bills, one by Assemblyman Fred Keeley (D-Boulder Creek), the other by Assemblywoman Virginia Strom-Martin (D-Duncans Mills).

Keeley's AB 1000 would put a $663-million bond measure on the ballot next year to pay for the creation of habitat for the lucrative salmon industry, spend $10 million to help expand the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles, dedicate $35 million for improving and restoring the Los Angeles River corridor, and funnel $20 million to improve San Diego wetlands.

Strom-Martin's AB 1315 proposes more dramatic measures. The bill would scrap the current system of taxing commercial fishermen on the type and weight of their catch. Such a system means fisherman pay relatively higher taxes on big loads of less-valuable fish, while small loads of scarce abalone are relatively lightly taxed, critics say. The bill proposes a 1% tax on the wholesale market value of the catch. The funds would be used for species protection.

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"It's a fair way of taxing seafood," said Zeke Grader, spokesman for the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Assns., an industry trade group.

Environmentalists and fishermen have joined forces sporadically in the past, he said, but both realize that they now have a golden opportunity to capitalize on renewed attention the governor and the Legislature are paying to marine issues.

Still, Grader predicts there may be some rough seas ahead for the bills. Opposition is likely from the commercial fish canners and processors because several of the bills would probably result in higher wholesale prices, he said.

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