As my regular readers know, I've been doing almost nothing but night dives starting back in May. Of course I call it vampire diving due to my fangs, especially on nights of the full moon. Ah-oooooo! It's a good way to get away from the crowds in the water at the dive park in summer (and I get to spend more time topside during bikini season). Now most divers only start night diving when lobster season begins in September or October. I stopped taking bugs nearly 40 years ago, but have no problem with those who take a few... especially if they share one with me! My #1 dive buddy Andrea has a passion for bugs (but, sigh, not for me... tee hee).
However, there are a few things about bug hunting that really bother me even though one of them is perfectly legal. Poachers disgust me and I've certainly seen evidence of that both in and out of season in the dive park (a marine protected area or MPA), not to mention suspicious small craft with no running lights putting divers in the water at the park well after sundown. Lately I've developed a real distaste for something that is perfectly legal, but even more devastating to the crustacean population in the park... hoop netting.
Now back in the days when hoop nets were flat, they gave the bugs a much more sporting chance at escaping. Today's "hoop" nets are a totally different animal. To paraphrase the roach motel ad, "Bugs crawl in but they don't crawl out." A lucky lobsterer could yield more than a limit in a single pull. Where's the sport in that? No new piercings from grabbing them by hand? And how many hoop netters realize that being in possession of more than seven at a time (including the ones in your freezer) is against the law? I've only caught seven this entire season... but released each one after I filmed them up close and personal.
So what's the big deal, Dr. Bill? I'll tell you. In the two months prior to the opening of lobster season, bugs were crawling all over the dive park at night. Heck, they frequently interfered with my filming when one (or more) jetted up into my body as I tried to steady my camera to shoot something else.... and more than a few times they would bump into the subject I was trying to film and send it flying (er, swimming). Then, after season began, I started seeing the lights of hoop net lines all over the perimeter of the dive park... right off the boundary line. And gradually I stopped seeing so many bugs on my night dives. Far too many of them were ending up in hoop nets during their nocturnal forays to scavenge in deeper water just outside the park.
Most of the State's new marine protected areas extend well out to sea from their shore boundary. However, the Casino Point State Marine Conservation Area extends only to the boundary of the dive park. Therefore, hoop nets placed just outside the boundary line are perfectly legal even though they apparently capture a high percentage of the bug population that resides within the park boundaries. While spillover from these reserves into adjacent areas is one goal of the MPAs, in this case we are talking about a species that resides within the reserve, but makes nocturnal journeys outside it (and then back in, but only if they are lucky).
Personally, I think the use of hoop nets to catch lobster should be revisited by California Fish & Wildlife. First, these new designs that trap almost every bug that enters a net should be banned and we should return to the old style hoop net. The number of hoop nets per person (5) and per vessel (10) should be reduced. I'd also like to see the boundary of the Casino Point MPA extended seaward so hoop netters can't place nets along the deeper boundary line (but it would still be okay along the side boundaries). I guess I'm just one of those darned "kelp huggers" (even though I'd prefer a lovely mermaid).
© 2013 Dr. Bill Bushing. Watch the "Dive Dry with Dr. Bill" underwater videos on Catalina Cable TV channel 29, 10:00 AM weekdays and on Charter Communications Cable channel 33 at 7:30 PM on Tuesdays in the Riverside/Norco area. You can also watch these episodes in iPod format on YouTube through my channel there (drbillbushing). Please help me climb out of self-imposed poverty... buy my DVD's (see this link). Yes, take Dr. Bill home with you... we'll both be glad you did!
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DON'T BUG US (lobster sensing me with its antennules and in defensive position);
group of bugs on the reef (one piggy-backing) and the bad kind of hoop net.
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Dr. Bill Bushing.
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