Pier-fishers in Imperial Beach are complaining about the city's signs that create a protected “surf zone” that limits the area where they can fish. The signs are located on the pier, marking the point past which the pier-fishers are allowed to place their poles, a point well past the area where the waves break.
Jean Villard, an active Imperial Beach resident who noticed the issue recently, said the ongoing battle is the result of “a policy made without any input from the people" and that "right now it's skewed toward surfers and swimmers."
Villard said even the wording on the signs, which read "No fishing in the surf zone," is biased.
"I call it the waves, the sign calls it the surf zone, which shows it's skewed….
"The reason why people fish in the waves is that it picks up the debris and the fish eat it," said Villard. Closing that much of the pier "is like closing half the beach to the surfers and swimmers."
Besides the recently placed signs, there have long been flags onshore to the north and south of the pier showing the closest that surfers and swimmers are allowed to get to the structure. Conflict between surfers and pier-fishers occurs when surfers and swimmers break these rules, often by "shooting the pier," the term for surfing under the pier while going from one side to the other.
One pier-fisher, a 60-year-old man who was born in the Philippines (where he said he was a political science major) agreed to talk about the issue if he could remain anonymous.
The city is "siding with the surfers," he said, though it is the surfers that cause the problem. "They shouldn't violate the rules" as they do when "they [shoot] the pier…. This is the only pier that has this sign."
He said some of his fellow pier-fishers, including Vietnam veterans, had "aired their grievances" but "there is no action." Because of the signs, "on weekends you can barely find a spot," the man said.
Imperial Beach lifeguard Art Ayala confirmed that their daily setting up of the signs is by city ordinance that was passed "due to the conflict" last year.
Ayala said that surfers and swimmers can accidentally get closer than allowed to the pier.
"There are issues of currents," he said, "and the surfers get blown in to the pier." Besides accidental conflict, he said there have been cases of fishermen "purposely casting at surfers."
Villard, a novice fisherman himself, said he "got active" when he saw a pier-fisher unjustly accused of doing just that.
"A fisher had already cast into the ocean, and a surfer was shooting the pier," he said. The fisher in the incident "yelled and shook his fist at the surfer for interfering with his line" which caused the surfer to complain to lifeguards.
Villard noted that shooting the pier "is illegal but hard to enforce,” compared to enforcing fishing rules, which involves authorities walking up the pier.
Villard is researching how to get all the parties involved in a meeting to discuss the issue.
"In the future they should have a session and invite the public," he said, to include "a pro surfer, a pro fisher, and a swimmer…. I want a fair law, a fair code, that's not skewed towards one population or another.”
He noted that most of the pier fishers are older Filipinos, many ex-Navy retirees and other older people of Asian descent that culturally "don't want to complain and make a scene."
Surfers and pier fishers have something in common, said Villard: "They're both trying to get something free from the ocean.”