Posted by on April 13, 2005 at 20:51:58:
Mollusks making a comeback; Fish and Game officials warn they won't go easy on violators
PESCADERO — The factors all added up.
The tide was significantly low, it was the end of November and the vehicle was parked along the rocky San Mateo County coastline where poachers had been before.
When California Department of Fish and Game Warden Jess Mitchell asked the man to step out of the car, the man was wearing wet-suit booties. The bottom of his pantlegs were wet.
By the time Mitchell discovered 20 abalone stashed in a Hello Kitty backpack in Yiting Zhu's trunk, Zhu already had his hands placed behind his back, waiting for the handcuffs.
Last week, a year and a half after the incident, Zhu
faced the consequences of his crime. San Mateo County Judge Clifford Cretan fined Zhu $5,130, permanently revoked his sport- and commercial-fishing privileges, and placed him on a three-year probation for search and seizure. Zhu's 1995 Mitsubishi Gallant also was confiscated, since it was used in the crime.
Nevertheless, Zhu seems to have gotten off easy.
Under the California Code of Regulations, set by the state Legislature, the punishment for any violation involving abalone is a minimum fine of $15,000 and maximum of $40,000.
According to Lt. Don Kelly of the California Department of Fish and Game, Zhu originally
pleaded guilty to the charges brought against him by the District Attorney's Office.
When Zhu learned that he faced a penalty of $40,000, he withdrew his plea and hired an attorney. Fish and Game decided to press for a lesser misdemeanor charge, resulting in last week's verdict.
"We still feel justice was served," said Kelly, who is based in Monterey. "We're not out to penalize someone so significantly they can never recover from it. We do want to leave people with dignity, if we can."
That doesn't mean Fish and Game officials are planning to go easy on violators. In fact, when someone like Zhu faces prosecution,
they want the public to know about it, for one main reason: prevention.
"The moral of the story is: Don't go out there and do it," Kelly said. "We're going to be watching you."
The red abalone is a snail-like univalve creature with long tentacles that moves around on a massive muscular foot. The iridescent abalone shell is often used as a source of mother-of-pearl for art and decorative items.
But it's the edible foot that people are willing to dive to great depths for. Poachers can get up to $100 for an adult abalone, which can reach 12 inches in diameter.
The Southern California fishery, which stretches
from the Golden Gate Bridge to the Mexico border, was closed in 1997 due to its near depletion.
Abalone fishing is allowed north of the San Francisco Bay to the Oregon border, but with tight restrictions. Individuals are allowed to take no more than three red abalone a day and no more than 24 in a calendar year. The mollusks must be at least 7 inches in diameter; scuba gear is prohibited.
Kelly would like to say he's seen a decrease in abalone poaching, but so far he hasn't.
Last September, at the same location where Zhu was arrested south of Pescadero, Fish and Game arrested a band of four San Francisco
divers in possession of 56 abalone. That case is scheduled to go to court in a couple of weeks. Kelly said he saw another abalone-poaching case last month.
"We're finally seeing a comeback of abalone," Kelly said Monday. "When people keep doing poaching forays, the whole area suffers a setback."
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