Archive for 07/15/2011

Erica Blake –

Slicing his cupped hands through the chilly water to propel himself forward, John Harris made his way to the submerged platforms at Whitestar Quarry.

He checked the depth on his gauges, flooded his mask and cleared out the water, and took out the mouthpiece of his regulator as a demonstration of how he would share air.

It was a typical lesson for those learning how to scuba dive. But the smile that spread across his face as he floated on his back in the water after the first of his four certification dives showed something very different.

Despite being paralyzed in a dirt-bike crash not quite a year ago, the 17-year-old Petersburg, Mich., resident was now one stroke closer to being a certified scuba diver.

“I used to swim all the time,” he said after he and his sister, Ashley, finished their first open-water dive. “I never thought it would be fun but it is. I like being free in the water.”

The teen said he doesn’t remember much about July 20, 2010. He and some friends were practicing at a dirt bike track in Milan, Mich., when he hit a jump wrong and was hurled through the air, end-over-end.

When he landed, he broke two vertebrae in his back.

“I remember being hurt, a helicopter ride, and [nothing more until] two weeks later,” he said, adding that although he had a broken back, he doesn’t recall feeling any pain.

At age 16 and with goals of entering an amateur-level national dirt bike competition, he was paralyzed from the waist down. And life for the adventurous teenager was about to drastically change.

“I can’t explain it, I have no idea why,” his father, Rod, said while reflecting on the crash. “But it is what it is. You just have to get on with it and all along, [John] has pulled us through this.”

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Matthew T. Hall –

Ten scuba divers and four deck hands gathered under gray skies on Mission Bay Tuesday morning and motored south to the Coronado Islands off the Mexican coast.

Theirs was no recreational dive.

They planned to remove an estimated 1,000 pounds of fishing net abandoned 100 feet below the surface at one of the area’s most popular diving destinations. Eight hours later, they returned with 300 pounds and plans to return next week to gather the rest, which remains stuck in sand and snarled on a reef.

“We didn’t get as much as we wanted, but that’s the way these things go,” said Kurt Lieber, a former >San Diegan who organized the net removal. “You’ve got to take what the ocean will give.”

Lieber, 57, is president and founder of the Huntington Beach-based nonprofit Ocean Defenders Alliance. In the last five years, Lieber said, it has helped remove roughly 12,000 pounds of abandoned nets from Southern California waters.

Such tangled gear is known as ghost nets because they can haul in fish, sea lions and bottom dwellers long after being lost or left behind by fishing boats.

“They are perpetual killing machines,” Lieber said.

Marine experts said San Diego’s situation with ghost fishing improved in the 1990s with a ban on gill nets and the growth of diving, but that it’s tough to eliminate because no laws penalize the fishing industry for losing nets at sea.

Before most of San Diego’s coffee was even brewed, divers strode purposely from a parking lot to the Humboldt, a diving boat donated for the occasion, making several trips to load the gear they would need for their dives.

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Susan Cocking – 

A scuba diving trade group filed suit Monday in Tallahassee to try to stop the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission from enforcing a costly charterboat license law in advance of the two-day lobster mini-season July 27-28.

The complaint, filed by attorney Bob Harris of the Diving Equipment and Marketing Association (DEMA) in Leon Circuit Court, says the statute amounts to an illegal license fee on recreational dive charter vessels imposed during their busiest time of year.

“It’s not right how they’re doing it,” Harris said. “We need enough time to let our people know the new rules and new procedures.”

At issue is a section of Florida law that says no one may operate a boat and charge customers a fee for the purpose of taking a saltwater fish for noncommercial purposes unless the boat operator has purchased a license for each vessel, which can range from $200 to $2,000 per year. The law has been applied almost exclusively to charter fishing boats after a 1990 Palm Beach County Court ruling held that it didn’t apply to dive boats. Dive boats, the judge said, operate primarily to transport divers—not to take marine life.

But a June memo from FWC director of law enforcement Col. Jim Brown to his officers said vessel licenses are required for dive charter operators who offer trips for divers who intend to take saltwater products. If the vessel has a license, then customers would not need to have an individual saltwater fishing license ($17 for Florida residents) or lobster permit ($5). Citations would be written at an officer’s discretion, with penalties ranging from $50 to $100, plus the cost of a vessel license.

The FWC’s intention to enforce the law during the upcoming mini-season has the South Florida dive charter industry in an uproar.

Captain Jeff Torode, who operates two 35-passenger dive boats and one 12-passenger vessel in Pompano Beach, signed on as a plaintiff in the DEMA lawsuit. Torode says he does not intend to pay the $2,400 in license fees, and if cited, will fight it in court.

“The law is too vague to include us,” he said. “The majority of my passengers are not resource-takers. That is not our sole purpose. We shouldn’t be at the same fee schedule as a person that’s 100 percent take 100 percent of the year.”

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