California DFG Wardens Work with Commercial Lobster Fishermen to Catch Poachers
Department of Fish and Game (DFG) wardens arrested four suspected lobster poachers over the weekend on two all-night operations. The SCUBA-clad divers are suspected of stealing lobsters from commercial fishermen’s traps.
“Lobster trap poachers have always been a problem for commercial lobster fishermen,” stated Eric Kord, skipper to the patrol boat Thresher, whose crew spearheaded the operation. “For a poacher, traps can be tempting targets. Stealing from them can also earn a poacher a felony grand theft conviction.”
Arrested and booked were 37-year-old Oscar Pinon of Anaheim, 32-year-old Anton Vasilescu of Alisa Viejo, 31-year-old Robert Hartman of San Jacinto and 48-year-old Louie Maldonado of Apple Valley. All dive gear related to the commission of the crimes was seized.
During the operation, wardens also wrote citations for an undersized lobster, otherwise legally harvested, and use of illegal gear to harvest lobster.
While surveilling the shoreline for poaching activity, wardens ended up coordinating a rescue of a panicked diver who was in danger of drowning. Two wardens had to quickly don wetsuits to assist and while lifeguards rescued the diver, the wardens recovered his dive gear. Once the rescue was made and the scene was secured, the rescued diver’s partner was found to be in possession of illegally harvested scallops and was appropriately cited.
Making these kinds of cases requires extensive coordination between DFG wardens and commercial fishermen. Poaching losses can add up quickly for commercial fishermen and are taken very seriously in California state law. According to Section 487 (b)(2) of the California State Penal Code, grand theft occurs: “When fish, shellfish, mollusks, crustaceans, kelp, algae or other aquacultural products are taken from a commercial or research operation which is producing that product, of a value exceeding one hundred dollars ($100).” The law is similar to a long-standing law making it a felony to steal more than $100 worth of agricultural products from a farmer. At the current commercial price of $10.50 per pound, a poacher who steals seven lobsters from a trap (the normal legal recreational limit) will have stolen in excess of the $100 threshold.