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Anglers hit another snag: hungry sea lions

March 09, 2007|Pete Thomas

The spring fishing season is at hand and saltwater anglers are savoring thoughts of all the barracuda, yellowtail and white sea bass they're going to catch.

Unfortunately, so are California sea lions.

It's no longer a question of whether the pesky pinnipeds will show beneath their boats. It's how many there will be.

"It's just absolutely disgusting," said Norris Tapp, spokesman for Davey's Locker in Newport Beach.

During a recent trip to Seal Rock at the east end of Santa Catalina Island, Tapp said his crew was awestruck by the sight of at least 400 sea lions.

"We said to each other, 'There just can't be that many sea lions,' but there were," Tapp said.

There are an estimated 240,000 California sea lions along the West Coast -- a historic high, some believe -- and about that many fishermen who revile them.

One report suggests that sea lions and seals pilfer 12-15% of salmon caught by anglers off Northern California and the Pacific Northwest.

Not only are there more of these mammals than ever, but more are learning each year that grabbing fish from hooks is easier than catching their own.

And because they're shielded by the Marine Mammal Protection Act, there is little anyone can do to alleviate the problem.

Nonlethal deterrents such as underwater firecrackers, starter pistols, slingshots and paint-ball guns are allowed with restrictions, but they're neither practical nor effective.

"Seal bombs are a waste of money," Rick Oefinger, owner of Marina del Rey Sportfishing, said. "They attract sea lions. Pain doesn't affect them the same way it does you and me. They hear that boom! and it goes into their ears, but it says that boom! means food."

Hold the trimmings

Once upon a time, fishermen simply killed problem sea lions and seals.

There was a bounty on them in the Pacific Northwest. Organized raids were carried out at rookeries. Mines were used for multiple effect.

A 1928 California Department of Fish and Game Fish Bulletin recalled problems near the end of the 19th century.

The California Fish and Game Commission deemed a reduction was necessary and "a great many were killed" in 1899 and 1900.

Protective measures were enacted soon afterward because widespread killing continued as a trade developed for sea lion genitalia, which were dried and sold to the Chinese.

They turned these "trimmings" into preparations thought to have rejuvenating qualities.

According to the Fish Bulletin, "A Santa Barbara man was arrested on the west end of San Miguel Island on June 16, 1927, with the trimmings of 12 sea lions in his possession. He pleaded guilty in the justice court at Santa Barbara, and paid a fine of $100."

Such a violation today would bring the hammer down.

Squid invasion: first-person report

I was aboard the New Del Mar out of Marina del Rey Sportfishing for an exploratory run Wednesday night, and it paid off in the form of 45 slithering Humboldt, or jumbo squid.

Fourteen fishermen reeled 2- to 4-foot cephalopods from depths of 700 feet off the Palos Verdes Peninsula.

Jordan Davila, 15, was the calamari king with seven. The lone sea lion roaming our perimeter was next with three.

The squid rose and became more active as the hour grew late, and as Capt. Ricky Carbajal guided the vessel to port about 1 a.m., they were showing as red dots on the sonar screen in a line nearly a mile long.

Oefinger, the landing owner, said this was the first large-scale jumbo squid intrusion into Santa Monica Bay since 1976.

Call in the sea lions!

From another Fish Bulletin, regarding a 1936 squid invasion:

"No sooner does a pleasure boat start to fish than a horde of squid appears on the scene to crowd the game fish away and seize all the baits.

"When one is hooked, it proceeds to shower boat and fishermen with ink and water, and then delights in biting its captor with its parrot-like beak. Although squid fishing is hilarious sport for a few minutes, it becomes too much of a good thing day after day."

Making their beds

Male largemouth bass are scouting for top-water nesting sites at many Southland lakes, meaning the sight-fishing season for bigger females is close at hand.

Meanwhile, some large females are being enticed from beyond sight.

A client with Marc Mitrany of Ojai Angler guide service caught a 14-pounder on a crawdad Tuesday.

Quoting a legend

"It doesn't matter how much money you make, how many cars you drive or how expensive your house is -- when you step onto a boat to fish, the fish don't give a damn."

-- Bill Poole, long-range fishing pioneer in a biography, "Fish or Cut Bait," by Chuck Garrison.

The captain and author are giving daily presentations during the Fred Hall Fishing Tackle & Boat Show, in progress through Sunday at the Long Beach Convention Center.

Finally, a call for blood

The website is offering a $10 discount for any fishing trip from Pierpoint Landing in Long Beach to those giving blood through May 31 at Long Beach Memorial Hospital.

Donors also will receive a raffle ticket potentially worth a free fishing trip. Appointments can be made at (562) 933-0808.

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