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 email@example.com
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