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Is Mexico waffling on reopening bluefin fishing in its waters?

By JIM MATTHEWS Last weekend, the word came that the Mexico officials were rescinding the closure on bluefin tuna fishing in its waters, and that the official “letter” would be in U.S. officials’ hands by Monday. Many skippers of the sportboats out of San Diego took the news to mean they could immediately start keeping bluefin tuna, and that’s what officials here thought was the case, too. Well Monday came and went and no paperwork. Then Tuesday. And Wednesday. Thursday, Friday, and now Saturday. No word. [Still no word as of Thursday, Aug. 21] Suspecting this would be the case, on Wednesday afternoon the Sportfishing Association of California (SAC) started calling all the landings and fishing news outlets and telling everyone to hold off on keeping bluefin in Mexican waters until the official paperwork arrived. This was precautionary. SAC didn’t want members getting pinched when the “official” word-of-mouth agreement might not make it down to an enforcement crew in Mexican waters. Or maybe they meant Monday, as in tomorrow? Are there FAX machines in Mexico? Do they have e-mail? Computers which can create PDF documents? Maybe we’ll find out tomorrow. The bottom line is this: We are having one of the most spectacular tuna seasons in memory for many anglers and skippers -- even in United States waters. Both yellowfin and bluefin tuna are showing in greater numbers, over a broad swath of ocean, and for a longer period of time than I can remember -- and we are really just at the beginning of what would normally be the start of the tuna season now. And this unprecedented bite has been going on since May. Unless we have some really unusual weather (early, cold storms out of the Gulf of Alaska instead of even more warm El Nino storms), this bite is likely to go into November this year. Yet Mexico and even our federal government are looking (apparently) as some outdated and arguably faulty data on bluefin tuna numbers in the Pacific and talking about total closures on the fishery. It doesn’t matter that the commercial catch quota for the U.S. is less than 10 percent of what the feds said was sustainable when the regulations were set. This reeks of politics. So stay tuned. It’s like a major earthquake under a Thom McCann store: There are a lot of shoes in the air we’re still waiting to hit the ground. Manhattan Beach council violates state law and sets new pier fishing regulations First, the Manhattan Beach City Council banned fishing off the pier in its city. Then when it found out that move was well beyond its legal authority, they announced it was going to reopen the pier to fishing after adopting new pier fishing rules. But fishing regulations are also outside its legal authority. But the city council is marching blithely forward, even after warnings from the state Fish and Game Commission, State Parks, and the Coastal Commission that the council was operating illegally. If there’s one thing we’ve learned from all the past presidential administrations since Hoover is that laws apparently don’t apply to government agencies. Government can break laws if they think they’re doing it for a good reason. That isn’t even a partisan statement. It’s just a fact these days. The whole Manhattan Beach fiasco was launched -- and you will remember this story -- when a long-distance swimmer was bitten by a juvenile great white shark after the shark was hooked and battled by a pier fisherman. The whole set of circumstances are beyond fantasy. First, great white sharks are found in minuscule numbers in Southern California waters and they almost never venture into the tidal zone. The fact that one was there, and then that it was actually hooked by an angler fishing off the pier is a second bolt of lightning hitting the same moving target. Finally, for there to be a long-distance swimmer out in deeper water where the hooked shark was struggling is a third lightning bolt. It will never happen again. For people who know anything about sharks and fishing, it is mind-exploding that it happened in the first place. But it led to a hue and cry: The fisherman was the culprit. They had to get rid of fishermen so this would never happen again. The world (or at least the Manhattan Beach Pier) needed to be a safer place for swimmers, surfers, and sharks. End the barbaric practice of fishing. And the city council did until they found out the closure was illegal, and lawsuits were being lined up. So they just wrote some fishing regulations and said they would be reopening the pier to fishing after the new regulations were posted. Give us two weeks. But the Fish and Game Commission members are pretty vain about someone trying to take over their sole authority to set fishing regulations. I’m fairly certain it has little to do with any notion of what is right for the anglers they are supposed to represent in this state. They just don’t like anyone to try and tell them how to do their job. So that’s where we are today. Fishing will open back up on the pier in a week or so. There will be signs telling anglers the “new” regulations: No chumming, no large hooks (whatever that means), no more than two hooks per line, and no steel, metal, or braided lines or leaders (that’s right, only nylon monofilament). What’s going to happen? The city is going to win and anglers are going to lose. It might not happen this year or next year, but we’re going to lose. This is how this will play out because anglers are a minority, and viewed as an unclean minority at that. We’re the new “F” word of minorities. The city is going to go to the Fish and Game Commission and get them to change pier fishing regulations statewide. Then, when the complainers continue, they will get appropriate state agencies to restrict fishing to the ends of the piers, and then they will get some legislature to create new “marine reserves” around all the piers because the structures offer such unique fish habitat. And anglers will lose the only places in the state where they can fish without a state fishing license. Am I turning into a cynical, old crank? Man, I hope so. But when everything I’m predicting comes true, you can remember me as a cynical, cranky old prophet. Don’t let the antis win Time to start stocking up on non-lead ammo As we inch closer to the statewide ban of all lead ammunition for hunting in California, sportsmen here need to start thinking about the future or be forced to sit on the sidelines when the implementation is complete in 2019. There are going to be shortages of non-lead ammunition. It’s not a question of “if” supplies will be low, but a matter of how bad it will be. The simple fact is that inventory will not be available for all gauges and shot sizes and all hunting calibers. Hunters need to start stocking up now if they don’t want to skip some hunting seasons because they can’t find steel dove shotgun loads on dealers’ shelves the year all lead shotgun ammo is banned. If you shoot something other than a common big game round, you need to think about reloading so you don’t have to give up that gun or hope to find ammunition. The tentative plan calls for the phasing in non-lead ammunition to being next year with non-lead ammo required for bighorn sheep hunters and on all state wildlife areas and ecological reserves for all species. That means you will need non-lead shotgun shells if you hunt doves at the San Jacinto Wildlife Area, Camp Cady Wildlife Area, or on the Imperial Wildlife Area (Wister and Finney-Ramer, including several of the better public fields) in 2015. For 2016 seasons, the DFW proposal is for non-lead ammo to be required for larger upland birds (pheasants, grouse, and maybe chukar), along with small mammals (rabbits), all non-game species (ground squirrels), and furbearers (coyotes, foxes, bobcats). That means no more lead rimfire ammo for jackrabbits, cottontails, and ground squirrels. Beyond that things get fuzzy about how the ban will progress. But you can count on this: all lead ammunition will be banned for everything -- including muzzleloaders, shotguns, handguns, and rifles – for hunting of all species in 2019. If there is any good news in this, it’s that you can find steel shotgun ammunition in the smaller shot sizes (6 and 7s) right now from mail order companies, and occasionally on the shelves at some of the bigger retailers in California. I was at Turner’s Outdoorsman in Victorville and found 28-gauge 7s in steel. They were nearly $17 a box, but they had some. The big three ammunition makers in this country -- Remington, Winchester, and Federal -- are all offering steel loads that will handle the entire gauntlet of bird hunting, and Winchester and Federal are even making upland steel loads for 28 gauge and .410 shotguns. Only 16 gauge steel upland loads are missing from the catalogs, and shooters of those gauges might be able to make-do with steel waterfowl loads in the smaller shot sizes. The reality is that if the companies actually made this ammunition in the same kind of volume they made lead, the price would be less than lead. Why? Because iron is far cheaper per ton than lead. It’s that simple. If the crunch on all ammunition continues, non-lead rimfire ammunition may be the toughest to find. Products are listed in several company catalogs, but -- like all rimfire -- it is all but impossible to get right now. If you find some, you should buy a box or two if you like to hunt cottontails, tree squirrels, or varmints with your rimfire and hold on to it for when the lead ban sets in. Reloading is the best option if you’re hunting with handguns or a rifle caliber that is not one of the top 10 sellers. If you shoot a .280 Remington, 264 Win. Mag., 257 Roberts, or similar well-known but less common rounds, factory-loaded non-lead ammunition will likely not be on the shelves. It’s time to start reloading or to make a deal with a buddy or neighbor who does reload. Non-lead bullets are available for all calibers, so even if you shoot something offbeat like a .303 British or 6.5x57 Mauser, you will still be able to hunt. I’m one of those guys who like quirky stuff, but I already have worked up non-lead loads for wild hog hunting in my .358 Winchester and 9.3x62 Mauser. Don’t call me or e-mail saying we should have to shoot lead and whinning about this or that. But let me explain the real bottom line and why we have to all buck up and shoot non-lead. The politics of the matter are simple: The antis who forced this legislation through the legislature will only win if we get frustrated and quit hunting. That is the only way they will be happy. The last thing I want to do is make them happy. One final note on the lead ban. If you want to hear the DFW’s dog-and-pony show on the phase in and their weak excuses about why we should shoot it, the last Southern California “workshop” is Tuesday this week. It will be held from 7 to 8:30 p.m., Tuesday, Aug. 19 at a Chaffey College satellite facility located at 9375 Ninth Street, Rancho Cucamonga. END

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