‘They’re trying to tire us out’

Update: Striped bass advocate John Banks says he doesn’t believe anyone left yesterday’s hearing early; he says those who couldn’t fit in the room stuck around in the hallway watching the proceedings on TV. Many of them got to the Capitol on a chartered bus. The bill ultimately passed out of committee.
 
Sometimes it takes a while to land a good-sized fish. You’ve got to wear him down first.

I’m told more than 100 Delta-area fishermen traveled to Sacramento this morning to speak in opposition to Assemblywoman Jean Fuller’s striped bass bill, only to find out the bill had been gutted and rewritten.

About half of the fishermen left the 9 a.m. committee hearing shortly after it began, organizer Robert Johnson said tonight. For starters, they couldn’t all fit in the room. But perhaps they also didn’t see the point in sticking around to argue against a bill that had been watered down at the last minute.

All-hands-on-deck emails had been sent to fishermen over the past week, asking them to attend the hearing. Johnson, of Alamo, was at dinner Monday night when he found out about the changes to the bill, which was introduced Feb. 19.

“The question was, do we blast (email) people and say, ‘Only come if you find it necessary?’ Johnson said.

Organizers decided not to do so. It was getting late. The next morning, people from all over the Delta showed up at the state Capitol. Some had taken the day off work, Johnson said. They were promptly informed by the legislators that the bill in its previous form no longer existed. For some fishermen, it was deja vu; this had happened last year when Fuller introduced a similar bill.

“I feel like Charlie Brown today,” advocate John Beuttler with the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance said, referring — of course — to Lucy’s penchant for pulling away the football.

Lucy-Football

“I completely understand why you feel that way,” Commitee on Water, Parks and Wildlife Chair Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, replied. “I hope you’re not overlooking the fact that just about all of the concerns you’ve laid out, I share. The amendments you see before you reflect those concerns.

“Maybe the football hasn’t been pulled out from under you after all.”

Indeed, the new version of the bill requires investigation into all of the factors contributing to the decline of native fish in the Delta. The previous bill put the crosshairs squarely on striped bass, which was why fishermen were alarmed in the first place.

Johnson, however, worries about the danger of calling on his cadre of supporters too often, of crying wolf. And he goes a step further, describing events like Tuesday’s hearing as a deliberate effort by the water establishment to wear down the fishermen — like a lunker on the line.

“They’re trying to tire us out,” Johnson said.

Nevertheless, Johnson said, “I think most of the fishermen know they’re going to have to stay engaged for a while. People are prepared for a long-term fight.”

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