An article on tuna fishing in yesterday's editions of The Washington Post erroneously reported that the National Marine Fisheries Service had given tuna fishermen a 100,000-propoise kill quota for 1974-75. In fact, 100,000 porpoises were killed then, but no quota had been set.
One by one this week, ships of the nation's tuna fleet sulkily returned to their home prt here, their captains claiming to feel as trapped as the porpoises their nets accidentally snare.
"When we were at sea, the orders kept changing but we didn't know who to believe. It drove us crazy," said Nello Marcieo, skipper of the tuna seiner Dominator.
The "orders" he referred to were shifting federal fishing regulations meant to reduce the number of airbreathing porpoises that were being drowned in tuna fishermen's nets.
Marcieo's boat was one of 96 coming home a month earlier than usual with flags drooping at half-mast in protest of the new regulations.
But the fishermen were not the only ones contending that they have been subjected to a classic case of the federal government making things worse in an attempt to solve a problem.
The author of the law meant to save the porpoises, the environmental groups leading the fight to enforce it, and even scientists researching porpoise behavior for the enforcement agency, the National Marine Fisheries Services (NMFS), also blame federal agencies for holding up any resolution of the confliet.
Rep. Glenn M. Anderson, (D-Calif.), the author of the Marine Mammals Act. recently said his bill "never was intended to drive the tuna industry into the ground."
William Butler. attorncy for the Environmental Defense Fund. said. "We believe that National Marine Fisheries Service misjudgments and lassitude in 1976 have been the major cause of current perturbation adversely affecting the interests of both the environmentalists and the industry."
"The court action is stifling all our research," said Norm Mendes, the biologist in charge of NMFS porpoise observers and gear programs. "We can't afford to go out without the tuna fleet's help."
The final straw which brought the fleet back to San Diego was a Commerce Department demand that no eastern spinner porpoises at all be killed. The fishermen contend they cannot tell one species from another under water. So rather than face $20,000 fines or confiscation of their catch, the fleets decided to call it quits.
But industry representatives [WORD ILLEGIBLE] court rulings, administrative hearings, appeals, injunctions, and confliction orders issued by the Department of Commerce as the source of the problem.
The present morass began in May when U.S. District Court Judge Charles Richey in Washington, D.C., ruled on a two-year-old suit brought by environmentalists. The environmentalists alleged that NMFS was filing to protect the porpoises within provisions of the 972 Marine Mammals Protection Act.
A crucial phrase on Page 4 of theact calls for reducing porpoise deaths to a "zero mortality rate" by setting quotas or limits each year on the number of mammals accidentally drowned by fishermen.
Richey agreed with environmentalists that NMFS had been too indulgent with fishermen by giving them a 100,000 porpoise kill quota for 1974 - 1975. He ordered a temporary 78,000 quota and directed the NMFS and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOMA) to hold hearings and come up by Jan. 1, 1977, with more stringent limits for this year.
The fleet left San Diego for its summer fishing seasons, but in October was ordered home early by boat owners after the government announced the 78,000 porpoise kill limit had been reached.
American Tunaboat Association attorneys in Washington and San Diego rushed back to court in both cities but failed to block the ban on netting any more porpoises.
Meanwhile, NMFS and NOAA were slowly organizing public hearings and administrative procedures. When it became obvious the new quota and rules would not be ready by Jan. 1 the fleet was told regulations would be issued by mid-April and necessary fishing permits by the end of that month.
In an attempt to speed up the proess, the Commerce Department sent an arbitrator to San Diego for two weeks of hearings.
In November, administrative law judge Frank Vanderheyden listened to 60 witnesses, accepted 90 exhibits and reviewed 3,200 pages of testimony. He then recommended a 96,000 porpoise quota for 1977.
But Robert Schoning NMFS director, and Dr. Robert White, head of NOAA, considered Vanderheyden's report and basically ignored it.
After all the review and hundreds of hours of hearings the Commerce Department set a 59,050 quota for this year with the zero limit on eastern spinner porpoises, and the fleet came home.
Throughout the 10 month ordeal,congressional administrative and public hearings, court considerations and conflicting orders, the fishermen's only relief came from U.S. District Court Judge William B. Enright in San Diego.
Acting in direct opposition to D.C. federal Appeals Court Judges Spotts-wood W. Robinson III, Malcolm Wilkey and J. Skelly Wrigt, on Jan. 21 Enright ordered a temporary two month porpoise kill quota of 10,000 which put the fleet back in business.
"I cannot abdicate my responsibility while the entire industry withers."said Enright. He added that while he respected the D.C.court he "felt free not to be bound by it."
His action infuriated the D.C. judges, who ordered Commerce Secretary Juanita Kreps to use the FBI and U.S. marshals to make sure fishermen stayed away from porpoises.
Enright became a dockside hero although the Ninth Circuit Court in San Frnacisco overruled him five days later.
August Felando, ATA general manager, estimates that the bureaucracy and court actions have cost the industry an estimated $22 million in lost fish and other expenses. The legal bills alone since May are topping $100,000, he says, with the industry contributing another $100,000 for consultans and travel expenses needed for shuttling between courts on both coasts.
"There has been bureaucratic mismanagement, errors of judgment and bad advice," said Felando. "And after all this we can't live with the Commerce Department's final regulations."
At this time the U.S. tuna fleets' fate remains uncertain.
Michael Zolezzi. assistant general manager of the ATA, has been relaying orders to the tuna fleets at sea. His family is entering a forth generation of tuna fisherman.
"If the U.S. tuna fleet was based in the Potomac, it would be an entirely different situation," he says.