Abalone poacher gets fine, probation

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Posted by on April 11, 2005 at 00:31:01:

Just days into abalone season, the state Department of Fish and Game hopes the sentencing of an abalone poacher last week will deter others from raiding the diminishing stocks of the mollusk along the San Mateo County coast.

Yiting Zhu was sentenced in San Mateo County Superior Court to three years probation and fined $5,000 after he pleaded no contest to illegally pocketing 20 abalones from near Aņo Nuevo State Park one evening less than a year and a half ago.

Only recreational divers are allowed to harvest the popular delicacy from the sea -- and only north of the Golden Gate. To save the abalones -- which are illegally sold as pricey seafood in some Asian eateries -- the state limits the number that divers can take to three a day. California banned commercial harvesting in 1997, because of dwindling supplies and an abalone disease called withering foot syndrome.

Troy Swauger, spokesman for the State Department of Fish and Game, said he was pleased at catching Zhu.

``He was south of San Francisco and brazenly collecting abalone where the resources have been plundered,'' said Swauger, who said Zhu's commercial fishing license was also revoked.

In November 2003, Zhu was caught near Franklin Point off the San Mateo County coast when a warden for Fish and Game patrolling the area spotted a man in a wet suit in his car. In the trunk of the man's car, the warden discovered a Hello Kitty backpack containing a binder of business cards from Bay Area restaurants and markets.

The department initially cited Zhu, a cook in a Chinese restaurant, for commercial poaching, which carries a maximum penalty of $40,000 and a year in county jail. But the man later pleaded to a lesser misdemeanor of abalone possession, his lawyer said. Fish and game officials hope any fine will deter a ring of illegal Bay Area poachers they suspect are working along the coast south of San Francisco to harvest and sell the tasty mollusks to restaurants for as much as $100 each.

Peter Furst, Zhu's lawyer, argued unsuccessfully in court that state officials had no right to search the man's car. But Furst was pleased they could not prove that Zhu was a commercial dealer eager to make a profit from his abalone catch.

``The fact that they assume he was selling to commercial establishments is not enough to establish guilt,'' Furst said.

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