Poachers Threaten Monterey’s Endangered Black Abalone

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Poachers Threaten Monterey's Endangered Black AbaloneCalifornia game wardens recently made two new arrests in a series of black abalone poaching cases in Monterey County. Jerry Jones, 37, of Monterey, and Terry Callahan, 47, of Seaside were arrested by the Department of Fish and Game (DFG) on May 13 after being found in possession of 51 black abalone from Point Lobos State Park. Poaching charges against the two men are pending.

Commercial fishing for black abalone was banned in 1993. According to Fish and Game Code Section 5521.5(b), possession of 12 or more abalone is suitable evidence that the individual in possession intends to use the abalone for commercial purposes. Additionally, on February 13 of this year, black abalone were formally granted endangered status by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Fisheries Service.

Despite the federally endangered status of the abalone, said Lt. Don Kelly of DFG’s Law Enforcement Division, wardens are seeing poaching operations on a much greater scale than in the past. “Poachers are taking in excess of 90 or 100 abalone at times,” Kelly said. “Amazingly, many of these poachers have previous convictions. These criminals are knowingly breaking the law.”

Monterey County abalone have long been declining in number due to a bacterial condition called wasting disease, as well as a historical precedent of overfishing in the area. But today, poaching is the greatest threat to the black abalone population. The animals typically sell for $50 to $100 each on the black market.

In addition to the abalone taken and killed for sale, others are mortally injured by knives and screwdrivers in failed attempts to pry them off the rocks. Whenever possible, wardens return confiscated abalone to the waters where they were taken, but often, the injuries prove to be fatal.

In addition to the illegal operation discovered on May 13, other notably large cases include:

  • November 2008: Hoa Van Pham, 45, of Moss Landing, and Ty Van Lieu, 54, of Marina were found in possession of 66 black abalone that had been taken from a cove in southern Monterey County. Lieu had previously been found guilty of poaching abalone for commercial purposes in 2002 and 2005, and was arrested for another abalone violation in 1996. Pham had three prior poaching convictions, two in 2000 and one in 1998, specifically related to taking of marine life from a marine protected area. Both subjects pled guilty to the charges. Pham was sentenced to 30 days in jail, three years probation and a $25,000 fine, while Lieu was sentenced to 90 days in jail, three years probation, a $25,000 fine and a lifetime commercial fishing license revocation.
  • February 18, 2008: Haeng Ju Shin, 42, of Cupertino, was found by a California State Park Ranger to be in possession of 18 abalone, 69 mussels, four limpets, three turban snails, one sea urchin and one kelp snail. She was arrested on charges of unlawfully taking abalone and marine invertebrates from a marine conservation area. Shin admitted using a knife to take the marine animals. She was fined $15,000, $7,500 of which was suspended.
  • January 2008: Tony V. Le, 20, of Castroville and Jonathan Conner, 22, of Salinas, pled guilty to charges of possessing 119 black abalone and three red abalone. During the investigation Conner told authorities he could make $3,000 in two months by poaching. Le was sentenced to five days in jail and three years probation and was fined $15,000. Conner was placed on probation for four years, fined $15,000 and ordered to stay away from Soberantes Point where the crime was committed.
  • May 2007: San Mateo residents Robert Ji, 29, Jennifer Ji, 19, Jong Duk Yoo, 55, Jong Bae Yoo, 67, and Jong Nan Yoo, 50, were arrested for poaching 95 black abalone from a cove in Monterey County. Robert Ji, Jong Duk Yoo, Jong Bae Yoo and Jong Nan Yoo each plead guilty to poaching charges and were placed on three years probation and fined $15,000 each. Charges against Jennifer Ji were dropped.

Kelly said that the continuing arrest and prosecution of poachers is key to preventing the extinction of these endangered animals. “It’s the highest priority of our wardens in this area,” he said. “If this problem is left unchecked, Monterey’s black abalone resource will disappear forever.”

Citizens who witness the poaching of abalone or any related offenses are asked to call the DFG 24-hour CalTIP line at (888) 334-2258.