Pat McDonell's Blog

WONews Column by Pat McDonell

Pat McDonell is the Editorial Director of Western
Outdoors Publications and has fished and hunted all over the world, from Brazil’s famed peacock bass waters to Morro Bay for albacore.

A graduate from San Diego State University in Journalism, he coordinates the staffs of the weekly newspaper and magazine. He was a founding member of United Anglers of SoCal. He’s an avid saltwater and freshwater angler and hunter. He is also the director of the annual Los Cabos Tuna Jackpot Tournament held each November in Cabo.  McDonell, 52, is married with two daughters and resides in Carlsbad.

Shogun and the Lacy Act
Lloyd Rosier of Ontario and I chat once in a while. The last I heard from him was when he gave me a phone number of father/son rescuers of the Erik survivors a few years ago. The interview with Mike Kallicki made for a helluva story. Rosier called late last week to say he was on the Shogun on the “freezer special” trip from Fisherman’s Landing the weekend of March 7. It had been rescheduled from a few weeks earlier when weather hammered the coast.

It was a good trip, fishing the Baja coast. The 30 or so passengers had their sacks of fish, and as they came to the dock there was a Sheriff’s Deputy and three state DFW wardens waiting for them at the Fisherman’s Landing dock when the boat backed in.

“They told us nothing,” said Rosier. “They told us to stay on the boat. A lady warden looked at my paperwork, and she didn’t care too much about my state fishing license, just wanted to see my drivers license and wanted to know how many days I fished.”

Rosier said the 30 or so passengers waited while Frank Lopreste, owner of the landing, went to talk to them. Meanwhile, the fish were laid out on the concrete, like all trips.

“They took us one by one and I was lucky, I was No. 7, but the guys who had the later numbers had their fish sitting out in the sun a long time while they checked them.” Rosier said he didn’t see any citations being issued, and that correlates with a story in San Diego Union-Tribune that reported that fish were checked, no anglers were cited and the matter was still under investigation. And the DFW source confirmed the investigation is still pending.

So, essentially, the wardens in this big “sting” operation, backed by the Sheriff’s Department were checking Mexican limits and fishing licenses and permits (FMMs) — not U.S. licenses since the boat was fishing only in Mexican waters.

Although over the years we have told people of the laws concerning bringing Mexican fish back into the U.S. it can still be confusing. Plus, a letter writer, Mr. Wong, heard about the “bust” in the San Diego Union-Tribune and asked about carcasses and whether they count into the limits.

No one from CDFW could comment on the Shogun case as it is an ongoing investigation. But it’s common knowledge that authority over fish and game coming into California is dealt with in Fish and Game Code 2353. It basically says, you can’t bring any fish or game into the U.S. that is illegally taken in foreign waters, a violation of the Lacy Act.

Game and Wildlife wardens are crossed deputized by the Department of the Interior to enforce federal fish and wildlife regulations like those set forth in the Lacy Act and the Magnusson Act, and wardens are not enforcing Mexican regulations. They are enforcing FGC 2353 or other federal regulations that may apply.

The sticking point? It might be that in the U.S. a day’s limit cannot be added on unless you are fishing 12 hours into the day. Thus, the two anglers cited were overlimits for two days, but not three, and the anglers had permits for three days of fishing. Whether Mexico also has that 12-hour caveat In Mexico is likely the Lacy Act sticking point.

Then there is a question of carcasses. It’s a good one. Many Asians at cleaning tables on sportfishers ask for fish carcasses for soup, and it’s great they do, utilizing the resource to its fullest extent. Unfortunately, it’s illegal if it causes you to go overlimit.

If you have a fish carcass but no corresponding fish fillet to go with it, that would count as part of your bag limit. If you can match up each pair of fish fillets to a corresponding fish carcass, then the carcasses should not count as part of your limit. If you can’t, and you have bags of carcasses, you’re busted. Or could be. Frankly, wardens probably could care less, but that’s not “official.” Never heard of a bust on that because common sense at the dock usually comes into play with wardens.

Finally, while charterboat sportfishers handle this, private boat guys bringing fish back to the U.S. need the Declaration for Entry form, available in the fishing regulations booklet and online. And, a California license is not needed as long as anglers on boat don't fish in U.S. waters on way to Mexico or on return.

It’s a crazy world. Just know the regs on both sides of the border.

The FMM saga continues
My buddy Bob Aronson called the other day after spending five days at Long Beach for the Fred Hall show at his Angler Management booth. He’s expanding his charterboat business out of Dana Landing Mission Bay with the addition of a 31 Cabo. Thus, operating so close to Mexico where many of his charters will be focused, he is like hundreds of other 6-pack captains and private boaters who are plenty nervous about this season, and would like someone to provide the “latest” information on the need for a Mexican FMM to fish within 12 miles of the coast and islands of Mexico Norte.

The rumors are rampant on what is required now. A passport or photo ID? A printed receipt of the FMM? Web approval from the commandant he got your money and application? A fishing license? An FCC marine radio license. A Temporary Importation Permit for your boat? If you have all of those, you can enter Mexico from the U.S. to fish.

This past Saturday, about a hundred folks showed up at West Marine in Point Loma for a seminar on the FMM. Present were tourism officials from Baja Norte, and Fito Espinosa of the Hotel Coral and Marina.

Bob Vanian of was there on behalf of his service, and WON. What came out of the seminar, after multiple questions and concerns, was the following:

— You need the FMM, available through the Mexican immigration website. It costs $23 per person, and is good for one passage into Mexican and back into the U.S. in an 180-day period.

— The rumor was that you no longer need a passport to go with it, and you don’t need the “approval” via the internet to go fishing. Not true.

— While partyboat operations have had those “approval and passport” requirements waived, non-commercial partyboats (all other boats) must have an FMM for each angler, the receipt you get from the immigration website must be printed out, and the confirmation from immigration that you have paid. You must also have a passport, which is no longer required of commercial partyboats, and fishing Mexican fishing licenses for all aboard.

— Fito Espinosa, of the Hotel Coral and Marina, was asked about rumors of boaters needing a Temporary Importation Permit. No, they are not required, he said, unless you reach a Mexican port, and marinas like the Coral will guide you through that permit if it is required. For short stays, it is not.

— The 12-mile inclusion zone is from the coast, and ALSO from Mexican islands. That means Todos Santos and the Coronados. For tuna guys, the Hidden Bank, the 371 and 390 are all outside the 12 miles from the Coronados. The 425 would, unfortunately, require an FMM.

— Vanian was among those who asked questions, and the biggest concerns was the fact that Americans go on the website, pay the $23 per person, but don’t get the confirmation, not just within 48 hours, but sometimes the approval for the Rosarito port captain never comes. The tourism department reps said they would look into it on the immigration side.

Since it rarely if ever comes, most PBers out there have only the receipt they printed out at home, and are thus fishing illegally. On the other hand, Vanian said, the Mexican Navy seems willing to take the receipt without the confirmation. Confusion reigns. We want to be legal, but the web system is jacked worse than Obamacare.

Most encouraging, said Vanian, was that the tourism officials were working on an multiple use FMM for private boaters.

Finally, questions were asked about the need to have an FCC Ships Station License for your VHF radio and an FCC Operator’s License for the operator of the radio. It is required by law for Canadian and Mexican waters, said Vanian, and has been inconsistently asked for by the Mex Navy. My advice. Feign ignorance.

Again, in case you missed us printing the web address (again and again) the FMM Immigration forms can be obtained over the internet at You sign in, pay, and get your printable receipt. You are supposed to wait for a confirmation from the Mexicans, as I said before. It rarely happens within 48 hours, if ever. That is the biggest obstacle right now, and Mexico needs to clear that up. They don’t require it of commercial passengers, so why require it of skiff and six-pack captains? Until then, we are going to be coming, receipt in hand, fishing inside the 12-mile “inclusion zone” and worrying that we will have our boats impounded and towed to Ensenada. It’s only a question of when, in my mind.

As for the importation permits, I don’t think they are needed for basic fishing trips, but Vanian said it is good prevention.

“The more I read about the problems people have had at some of the marinas within Mexico, the more I am thinking it would also be good practice to obtain a Temporary Importation Permit for the boat from Mexico customs and to also carry that document when boating or fishing in Mexico,” said Vanian. He added that Ron Bowers of the Salt Fever reported being able to obtain a 10 year Temporary Importation Permit for his boat from Mexico Customs through Romero’s Mexican Service. Their web site is at Bowers cautioned that you needed to sign the document and email it back to the Mexican government for it to be valid.

La Jolla’s yellows will hopefully bust loose any day now.

Angler fights 'city hall' and wins

Lawsuit opens L.B.
Harbor  to fishing

“I see more and more personal rights being taken away all the time, but they never get returned.” Karl Erbacher, who filed the lawsuit to allow fishing in the Port of Long Beach  

It started three years ago with a City of Long Beach ticket handed to fisherman Karl Erbacher who was hoop netting on his 15-foot Boston Whaler skiff Big Hammer in Long Beach Harbor just inside the middle section of the 5-mile long federal breakwater. It is a massive rip-rap black stripe running parallel to the coast that protects the man-made inland port. When combined with the Los Angeles facilities, they form largest container port in the world.

Erbacher, a 42-year-old father of three, engineer and resident of Lake Elsinore is well-known in the tight circle of competitive SoCal sportfishing, particularly saltwater bass fishing on two professional SoCal-based circuits. He and his longtime fishing partner, Josh Dunlap, have won more than 20 bass two-man skiff events and posted wins in offshore events at Catalina and Ensenada with another friend, Ron Atwood. Erbacher has fished the structure and channels of the harbor for 20 years and saw access by boaters grow tighter after 911. Inner harbor hoop spots once okay to drop on were off-limits.

“It was okay to hoop net and fish there pre-911, but after that it got more restrictive, and that was okay, we got it, security and all that,” said Erbacher. “But in 2009 the threat levels were dropped way down and the colors (designating threat levels) went to green. Well, people wanted to go back in there inside the harbor and fish and the cops have used some obscure law restricting the nets, and even just fishing the harbor, and were being jerks. Not just for hooping, but also fishing. You never knew if you were going to get a ticket. It was just arbitrary and inconsistent.”

On that evening, the Sheriff’s Department Deputy wrote the ticket even as Erbacher argued the point that fishing was allowed in the harbor. He knew the law. The officer said lobster hoop fishing was not considered fishing, with the hoops set out with bouys, and descending lines and lights, all unattached to the angler’s boat. They considered the hoops to be “anchored” themselves, as though they were “vessels.” Forbidden by port law.

“I told him, ‘No way, hoop netting is fishing. It says so in the state fish and game code.” Erbacher got the ticket anyway that night, Sept. 27, 2011 in violation of Port Tariff 734, subsection item 7. He was to appear Jan. 25, 2012, as an alleged violation (misdemeanor) of the port tariff, which is not a fee, but the set of laws governing the port. The day after he was ticketed, Erbacher decided he was going to fight it, take on city hall, and the arbitrary law that was left over from 911.

So, he called fellow angler Bill Hokstad, a San Diego-based family lawyer and certified specialist and member of the active San Diego Anglers Fishing Club and himself a bass tournament angler. Hokstad is a family law attorney, but his passion is constitutional law. Get him started and he gets fired up about the growing lack of constitutional controls, particularly when it comes to post 911 reaction and Homeland Security and laws that remain on the books. Laws that can be used at any time by enforcement to stop, board and search boaters. It happens to him all the time on his boat.

Said Erbacher, “I called Bill and said, “Here’s what happened, here’s my research, and he said. ‘Absolutely I’ll do it.’ And he did it pro bono. He’s in family law, but he does constitutional and civil rights stuff, fighting for people.”

It took a bit of work, but six months later, the ticket was dismissed when the prosecution realized they had issues with the constitutional rights under the constitution of the state of California. Fishing is an actual constitutional right in the state of California and the government has to have a compelling state interest to limit constitutional rights. Lack of a compelling state interest resulted in the prosecution folding, said Hokstad.

“As soon as they tossed out the ticket we knew we had it,” said Hokstad. The civil lawsuit took a year to file after assembling the usual documents. To make a long story shorter, the Long Beach Harbor Board of Directors in a vote this year after the advice of the Long Beach City attorney, conceded and rewrote Port Tariff law to allow hoop netting and fishing in Long Beach Harbor. Of course, Erbacher said, there are usual common sense restrictions on fishing in shipping lanes or near cruise liners. Fishing from shore is prohibited in some areas for safety reasons, so look for the signs that say no fishing from shore.

So three years after Erbacher argued his point and signed the ticket, boaters can set hoop nets in Long Beach Harbor where ships do not travel or unload cargo. The average angler, and bass competitors – once afraid of fishing in the Harbor and being ticketed, have a massive new fishing area to access. For once, anglers have a “new” area to fish. So what’s next?

Said Hokstad who came up to the Fred Hall show in Long Beach, “I have many fires to put out and one of ‘them is L.A. Harbor. I’m not sure how they might react. They might not be as nice about it as Long Beach,” said Hokstad.

Pat McDonell is editor of WON and director of four jackpot events in Catalina, Cabo, San Diego and La Paz. He can be reached at


CARL ERBACHER and attorney Bill Hokstad, left, fought the Port of Long Beach and won, opening up the harbor for hoop netting and clarified port law on fishing the harbor from a boat in general. Many bays and harbors have existing post 911 laws on the books that restrict fishing access or are confusing enough to allow arbitrary ands confusing law enforcement. WON PHOTO BY PAT McDONELL

UASC: The final chapter?
This issue of WON has a lot of stories about who and what companies are “in” the Hall show. But this is a story about one very visible exhibitor who is not. United Anglers of Southern California will not be near the entrance, offering memberships in exchange for hats, sweatshirts and a free entry into the show.

Someone else, or something else will have to watch over the health and safety of the sportfishing industry. It won’t be United Anglers, now saddled by a $550,000 legal debt, and all its friends and supported who suggested the group be the legal spearhead for the lawsuit and gathering funds have run for the hills.

It must have been seven or eight years ago that Rich Holland, former saltwater editor here at WON who covered the Marine Life Protection Act’s implementation in California, and this reporter were pondering how our fragmented fishing industry was going to fare against the big money of conservation.

I remember it like it was yesterday. I told Rich that United Anglers has nether the resources nor the personnel to take on this battle at $25 memberships, and that when it was over, there would be finger pointing, and all the digits would be pointing at whatever was left of United Anglers.

“The deck is stacked against us when the commission is of the environmental ilk,” said John Riordan, UASC treasurer. “…and we were left holding the bag.”

After interviewing several remaining UASC board members, one thing is clear: The law firm got more than $700,000 for taking on a lawsuit to challenge the MLPA process, there’s another $500,000 to be paid, and that debt will be paid by the impending sale of United Anglers property that was donated years ago by members of the venerable Los Alamitos Sportsman’s Club.

John Riordan, the only remaining officer of UASC as the treasurer, said UASC was asked to spearhead the lawsuit and fundraising with its tax-exempt 501c3 status by more than a dozen clubs, groups and corporations who formed what is called the Partnership for Sustained Oceans, or PSO with a website
that was informational on the issues, listed its main groups, but which was aimed primarily at garnering donations whether it was monthly credit card payments or single donations or fundraisers. Instead of being part of an organization that is watchdogging the commission and the legislature, his job now is to sell the land to pay the legal fee.

One former board member who asked not to be named, said the organization just did not have the tools or infrastructure needed for large-scale fundraising and lobbying — much less fund an ongoing lawsuit.

“Throughout this process, raising money was always our biggest challenge, and we asked ourselves as a board when we were asked to take on this legal fight, ‘How are we going to raise a million dollars or more for a lawsuit. It’s a difficult thing to raise any kind of money,” said one board member. “You can’t raise it with $10 and $15 memberships.”

The push to go forward with a lawsuit to block the marine closures was buoyed by a judge’s decision in October of 2012 in California Superior Court. The judge ruled the MLPA Blue Ribbon Task Force and Master Plan Team or Science Advisory team that was the committee created to plan the string of closure areas mandated by law, were state agencies. Therefore, the court ruled, they are compelled by California Public Records Act to share information angling and conservation organizations.

The lawsuit to strike down the MLPA on technicalities, had its merits. The process was indeed flawed, but it was backed by millions of dollars donated by the Packard Foundation to keep it going when public funds ran out early in the game. The steamroller continued toward large-scale closures. However, the minor legal victory in October, 2012 got everyone fired up.

But the as with most sportfishing conservation battles, the heart is there, but not the deep pockets.

Not enough people, whether UASC board members or PSO leaders, stood up to ask this key question: Could the sportfishing industry afford it a lawsuit that could stretch over months, even years and cost upwards of $5 million? It could not, and by the time a judge in San Diego ruled against UASC’s injunction to stop the MLPA from being implemented $1.2 million was spent. It’s significant that $700,000 raised, but after the ruling, the financial support was reduced to a trickle and now more than $500,000 is owed.

After the injunction was ruled against, we were left standing alone, holding the bag,” said Riordan. He said the worst blow was when the Attorney General told UASC and its lawyers the court costs would be about $31,000 and UASC okayed that, but the Fish and Game Commission disagreed, and insisted that $63,000 was more like it. The Attorney General added $32,000 to the debt. “They just stuck it to us and we had to take it.”

Said Bob Clarke, a longtime board member, “We carried the ball and got stuck and all our allies have run for the hills. It just makes me sick to think that we will have to sell the land to pay for the legal bill we were left holding.”

UASC designated to be the legal spearhead as a California corporation (with retired Sportfishing Association of CA president Bob Fletcher as the single, legal plaintiff) but UASC was never equipped for the task financially no matter all the good intentions. Along the way two salaried directors of UASC resigned or were forced out by the board and were not replaced with another salaried director. It had no strong leader or direction, board meetings were reportedly acidic in nature over disagreements on fundraising, many resigned as a result, and fundraising slowed to a trickle. Board members told WON supporters slipped away.

No more fundraising events are planned. The land is for sale, and Riordan told me that the land and buildings on it in the Signal Hill area have yet to be assessed.

“It all depends on how this goes with the attorneys,” said Clarke. “If there is any money left over, if someone wants to carry the ball, fine, if there is another organization that is doing the right things, it will go to them.”

Clarke did not want to name a specific set of people or organization on record. But he summed up the situation by saying, “Right now, in my opinion, we have elected not to go to the Fred Hall show until it all settles out on the debt. I would like to say that the average fishermen never steps up, they just don’t. Guys like Bill Shedd, a company like Shimano – they stepped up big time, but the average angler, you couldn’t get ‘em to put up ten bucks to save their fishing areas. They just don’t do anything. Throughout this process, raising money has always been our biggest challenge.”

A Wicked Hall show
When the Fred Hall show makes its 5-day run March 5-9 in Long Beach it’s when tackle and new products debut, when a lot of trips get booked. A good run at the show in front of the massive crowds, and it can make your season as a lodge. Now, this is just one show. And while many of these vendors are on the winter road show a long, long time, this is the biggest show in the west.

Next week WON will have it’s biggest issue of the year centered around the Hall Show, as we call here it here. Warn the mailman. Way over 100 pages. Of course, the new digital edition, the FULL COLOR digital edition, will be up on our website by Tuesday, the day after we send the monster issue out the door Monday night. It will be my 30th Hall Show edition as editor, and it will be the first digital Hall (all color) edition offered well before the paper/ink version hits the streets.

Then, we’ll have the Official Show Program to build. Now, the free show program will be around 60 to 80 pages, and will be free at the entrances at Long Beach. You’d think 60 pages, or a 100-plus-page newspaper would be hard to fill, Wrong. Fact is, we have WAY more stories on the show and just general fishing and hunting, columns and such than we have room for.

This year the crunch I always feel to get everything in, especially the seminar schedules, is much more intense this year. More seminars, more shows, more vendors. This year’s show will be, in my mind after looking at what is coming up, the best Fred Hall Show in history. Vendor spaces have been sold out for months. I predict Long Beach will set attendance records – there is no doubt -- because that is the economic trend. Trust me. Get to the show early and stay late when crowds thin and you talk to vendors.

If you wander the show for just one day, never stopping in the aisles with a swivel head, and head home after four or five hours, you are missing out on the greatest opportunity in our sport to learn about new tackle, boats, techniques, the greatest fishing and hunting destinations in the world. It’s a time to pick the brain of the best captains, guides and tackle designers in the world.

There’s a bunch of new stuff at the show. Next week we’ll detail all of it and have all the schedules of the events and seminars at the five main presentation areas. But there are three panel discussions that might interest you.

— The Ultimate Calico Bass Fishing Panel, every day: “We found that interactive panel discussions allow the public attending these discussions to not experience the level of intimidation that often comes with a single high profile seminar speaker,” said show producer Bart Hall. “Some speakers are hard to question. One of the other benefits of a panel discussion is that different experts will disagree or agree with each other and will often question other panel members. All of the panels have moderators and that helps to keep the level of information high and keeps the discussion flowing. There were more questions from the audience in our panel discussions than in most single seminar venues.”

Hall said “The Ultimate Calico Bass Seminar” is back by popular demand with Jimmy Decker, Benny Florentino, Corey Sandon and Jack Sowell.

“These guys are, arguably, four of the most knowledgeable calico bass fishing specialists on the planet. But this year local marine biologist Lyall Bellquist will moderate the panel. Lyall is the biologist that is scenically documenting the health and abundance of our entire local near shore bass species. Lyall is attempting to prove or disprove some of the most recent draconian predictions about the ultimate “collapse” of the local bass population. Lyall’s work has been very comprehensive and very important to local anglers. If you attend this seminar I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the current research.”

The Ultimate Calico Bass Seminar will take place once a day on the Cousins Tackle Ultimate Saltwater Seminar Stage. At 3 p.m. every day.

Wicked Tuna Panel, Saturday: Everyone loves the Wicked Tuna cable show. Great characters. Paul Hebert, captain of the boat Wicked Pissah!, Dave Marciano, captain of the boat The Hard Merchandise and Tyler McLaughlin, captain of The Pinwheel, will be here from the National Geographic TV show. “These famous bluefin tuna fishermen will take part in a bluefin panel discussion slated for Saturday, 2 p.m. on the Cousins Saltwater stage.

Department of Fish and Wildlife panel, Saturday: The second unique seminar offered by Bart Hall and his staff is presented by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. You have questions and concerns about the direction of the department? In attendance will be Director Chuck Bonham, Deputy Director of Fish & Wildlife Dan Yparraguirre, Chief of Law Enforcement Mike Carion, Fisheries Branch Chief Stafford Lehr and Marine Region Manager Craig Shuman. Saturday, 12 noon at the Mammoth Lakes stage.

The panel discussion and Q&A will be on Saturday March 8., and Let’s Talk Hook-Up radio show host Pete Gray will moderate. “The state officials will take questions from the audience,” said Bart. “The questions must be written down first and asked by the moderator. This is a great opportunity for sportsmen and sportswomen to ask the Fish and Wildlife leaders any questions they want.”

With thousand of displayed products, hundreds of boats, over 400 seminars plus the Mammoth Lakes Kids Fish Free Trout Pond, the Ram Trucks Ultimate Air Dogs, the Great American Duck Races, the Toyota Paul Bunyan Lumberjack Show, air gun ranges, archery, laser shot, lagoon casting and fly casting, the Fred Hall Show. See you March 5-9 at the Long Beach Convention Center. If you want more show details, see the ad in this week’s paper or at

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