By Lisa Wells
OC Voice Staff Writer
Huntington Beach has one of the longest
As one of the few places in California to fish for free without a license, the H.B. pier attracts fishing enthusiasts from all over the Southland. And the world class waves rolling to shore along its sides attract thousands of surfers, swimmers and body boarders as well.
But fishing lines sometimes hook and entangle
surfers, forcing them to face the potential danger of injury, even death. The presence of surfers near the pier, on the other hand, conflicts with one of the pier’s main purposes, fishing.
The conflict is nothing new for the city, but it appeared once again at the Aug. 4 H.B. City Council meeting when local resident Stephen Stemmen, a 22-year-old surfer who works in construction, told council members that he was recently tangled up in fishing lines twice in one evening while surfing near the pier. He requested that fishing be restricted near the break waters and moved to the second “T,” just past the lifeguard tower located on the pier.
Stemmen says he’s been fish-hooked on other occasions as well, but being caught twice in one day motivated him to act. There were two other surfers who had close encounters with fish hooks earlier that same evening, he told the Voice.
“Me and my buddies are always getting tangled up in lines and just this summer getting caught up twice I got fed up with it, so we started talking and started shooting some ideas seeing what we could do to prevent death or injuries,” he complained.
The evening when Stemmen’s surf board and legs were tangled in fishing line he was dragged perilously close to where the ocean waves pound against the pier’s muscle and barnacle covered pilings. “I had to take the line and snap it just to get away from the pier because I was getting sucked in. In the process of snapping the line I got sliced on my fingers and was bleeding,” he recalled.
Angel Jasso, a 50-year-old Riverside resident fishes everyday off the H.B. pier and says that he has gotten surfers tangled up in his line a couple of times. “It would be safer for them and for us if they moved out 100 feet away from the edge of the pier. That would accommodate for them and for us,” he says.
When asked what he thought of Stemmer’s plan to move fishing down the pier, Jasso responded, pointing to the breakwater, “It’s not where you fish at, it’s where the fish are. Right here you fish for perch, corbina
But others who fish on the pier say that more precautions can be taken. Ron Bascos from Anaheim Hills says he hasn’t caught anyone because he’s aware of his line and is always actively reeling it in to avoid a lack of tension that makes a line difficult for a surfer to spot. But, he points out, getting to the heart of the conflict, “We have the same right to fish as they do to surf.”
H.B. Lifeguard’s marine safety officer, Todd Bartlett agrees that fishermen aren’t always aware of their lines and the potential danger they pose. He says that for the most part fisherman drop their lines directly under the pier where surfers don’t generally go, but that sometimes they will leave their lines in the water and then the current grabs the line and pulls it away from the pier. That’s usually when surfers tend to get tangled, he said.
Bartlett believes that the entanglements happen every now and then, but that a ban on fishing would be difficult to enforce. “Our first job is to watch the water and make sure there are no drownings,” he said. “I guess I wouldn’t be opposed to it [a fishing ban], [but] if anyone does get entangled they should let the lifeguards know so we can research it and address the issue.”
Stemmer says he’s collecting petition signatures to present to the city council. He vows to fight until there’s a solution. “I just want to prevent injury or death. They’re not going to hear the last of me until I can get some kind of resolution or we can make a deal.”