By Jennifer Henion

Triplicate staff writer

Battling for their livelihood, shrimp fishermen have a fight on their hands and the Del Norte County government agreed this week to help them.

County administrator Jeannine Galatioto spent most of yesterday morning calling state senators and assembly members imploring them to defeat a pending Senate Bill that would ban the practice of trawl fishing.

andquot;With the passage of SB236, processing plants, ice plants, fishermen's families and other support businesses will basically relocate north. I'm urging you to use all the resources you can to stop this bill,andquot; said Ted Long at this weeks meeting of the county board. He is with the company Fashion Blacksmith which repairs most of the local fleet boats when necessary.

The bill, authored by San Diego state senator Dede Alpert claims trawl fishing significantly damages the ocean floor, destroying habitat for bottom fish, spot prawns, sea cucumbers and pink shrimp. It also asserts trawl nets catch many pounds of untargeted fish that die and are discarded.

Pink shrimp fisherman Richard Young and others say there is no evidence for that claim, adding that their nets are drug over ocean floor mud flats and that if habitat was damaged, shrimp and crab populations would not now be so healthy.

After hearing the local fishermen's concerns Tuesday, the county drafted a letter opposing the bill, hoping it will reach all members of the Senate appropriations committee before they vote on the bill next Monday.

andquot;SB 236 does not examine a range of possible solutions to the problems it claims to address, it simply proposes arbitrary and unfounded restrictions that no fishing gear could meet. It will devastate the commercial fishing industry and the communities that depend on fishing.

andquot;Del Norte County's economy will be especially hurt because the vast majority of the California Pink shrimp fleet is based here,andquot; the county's letter says.

The bill's main proponents are two national environmental groups and at least one association of recreational fishermen.

United Anglers, a non-profit group pushing for the bill's passage and the banning of commercial trawl fishing say they're involved because they've been pushed out of their sport by trawlers.

andquot;Recreational anglers have been forced off the water for six months out of the year for rockfish and we believe if we all fish responsibly there will be enough for all of us,andquot; said president of United Anglers Tom Raftican.

Local fishermen have said the new limits on sport and commercial rockfishing were imposed by California Fish and Game based on hit and miss studies in questionable areas using mini submarines.

When asked what scientific evidence is available to back their assertions of trawling damage, Raftican refered to a Nov. 2002 symposium of environmental groups and scientists held in Florida.

He said video footage of trawl nets weighed down with metal bar frames showed coral and other habitat getting destroyed.

Raftican seemed most concerned with the number of untargeted fish caught in the nets.

When asked if he thought pink shrimp nets designed to let fish escape catch the same amount of bycatch, Raftican said yes - a claim Young said is ludicrous.

A main argument Young uses against the logic of the state bill is that it will not achieve its goal because it will not stop Oregon fishermen from harvesting pink shrimp in Northern California.

The bill will only regulate California boats.

Raftican, of Huntington Beach in Southern California said he doubts Oregon boats would spend the fuel to come to get the shrimp.

When told it is a regular practice, Raftican suggested the Oregon boats are actually selling their by-catch rather than the 29 cent per pound shrimp.

County supervisor Martha McClure pointed out on Tuesday if California fishermen are stopped from harvesting shrimp, Oregon and Washington boats will take advantage of that.

andquot;We know they come here for crab and they'll likely come for shrimp if they know there's no competition,andquot; McClure said.

Local politicians and trawl fishermen are up against well-funded national groups like Oceana and the Natural Resources Defense Council in the fight over SB 236.

The bill was passed by majority vote at its first stop in the state Senate Natural Resources Committee April 8. It's second stop in a series of votes by the Senate and state Assembly is the Senate appropriations committee April 28.

It is expected to pass as its author Alpert is chair of that committee.