Bob Bertelli has been fishing for sea urchins for years off the Palos Verdes Peninsula and Catalina Island coastlines to sell at wholesale. He believes his livelihood is threatened because the state wants to expand fishing restriction zones off the Southern California coast.

The proposed restrictions are a result of a 1999 law that requires the state Department of Fish and Game to develop a master plan of marine protected areas, with the goal of protecting sensitive ecosystems and preventing overfishing.

Last year a plan was drafted for California's central coast that aroused opposition from fishermen who claimed that the zones were too extensive and protecting some fish stocks that didn't need protecting. That plan is now pending final approval from the state Fish and Game Commission.

A similar plan that is under consideration for the Southern California coastline, including Los Angeles County, is what has Bertelli concerned. Several hundred other commercial fishermen mostly small family-run outfits fish off the Los Angeles County and Catalina Island coastlines.

There are also several charter boat operations that take fishermen out to the offshore fishing grounds that would be affected by increased restrictions.

Some local fishermen, including Bertelli, are concerned that the restrictive zones that are mapped out will be too broad. "You could see more than 30 square miles of ocean off the L.A. coastline blocked off from fishing," Bertelli said.

Among the areas likely to be targeted: several square miles each off the Palos Verdes Peninsula, Catalina Island and Point Dume in Malibu.

Bertelli is one of the fishing industry representatives on a newly formed panel charged with coming up with a recommended protection zone map. He said that if the protection zones are too big, commercial and recreational fishermen who had been working in those waters would be forced into other areas, which would lead to overfishing there.

"You could see severe overfishing and fish population crashes in the remaining areas if we're not careful about how we do this," he said.

The panel is expected to present its proposal to the Fish and Game Commission in the next few months. The commission is expected to make its final decision about a year from now.

Reimbursement Downshifts

Thanks to plummeting gas prices, the federally recommended mileage reimbursement rate for business-related vehicle travel will be 55 cents per mile on Jan. 1, down from 58.5 cents per mile.

In its statement outlining the new reimbursement rates, the Internal Revenue Service said, "The mileage rates for 2009 reflect generally higher transportation costs compared to a year ago, but the rates also factor in the recent reversal of rising gasoline prices."

As gasoline prices spiked last spring and summer, the IRS issued a rare mid-year bulletin that raised the mileage reimbursement rate to 58.5 cents per mile from 50.5 cents.

The IRS issues the mileage reimbursement rates primarily for taxpayers who deduct business-related mileage expenses. Employers generally adopt the rates when they reimburse their employees for business-related vehicle miles traveled.

We're the Government

As part of an ongoing program to flush out businesses that either don't pay or underpay their sales taxes, the state Board of Equalization sent out inspection warning letters earlier this month to businesses in Long Beach's 90802 ZIP code and San Gabriel's 91776 ZIP code.

The letters inform business recipients that they will be inspected in coming weeks by agency specialists to see if they have their seller's permit posted and that they are paying the correct amount in sales and use taxes to the state.

This inspection program is part of the agency's effort to plug a $2 billion "non-compliance" gap in sales and use taxes paid.

Police Case

Businesses within the city of Los Angeles that require police permits to operate including many retailers, service providers and entertainment venues could lose those police permits if they don't pay all the business taxes they owe.

Under an ordinance that is scheduled for City Council consideration next year, businesses that fail to pay their business or parking occupancy taxes would have their police permits suspended or revoked.

Thousands of businesses in the city require operating permits from the Police Department, including antique shops, bowling alleys, cyber cafes, tanning salons, massage parlors, card clubs, dance halls, locksmiths and second-hand auto parts dealers.

The proposed ordinance must first be approved by the Office of Finance and the Board of Police Commissioners before coming back to the council.

Staff reporter Howard Fine can be reached at hfine@labusinessjournal.com or at (323) 549-5225, ext. 227.

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