3 men charged in killing of protected black sea bass

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Posted by on May 20, 2005 at 15:22:25:

Mammoth fish was mature female

The San Diego City Attorney's Office yesterday filed misdemeanor criminal charges against two scuba divers and a boat operator involved in the spearing last month of a protected giant sea bass at La Jolla underwater reserve.

Omid Adhami, 34, is accused of unlawfully killing the protected fish inside the San Diego-La Jolla Ecological Reserve. His diving partner, Nima Hodaji, 26, was charged with unlawfully spearing a sheephead, a legal game fish, inside the reserve. The boat operator Navid Adibi, 22, is charged with possession of a protected species. In addition, all three men were charged with two counts each of misdemeanor conspiracy in connection with the alleged poaching incident.

The three San Diego men are scheduled to appear in Superior Court on June 2 to answer the charges.

The four misdemeanor charges against Adhami carry a maximum penalty of three years in jail and $22,000 in fines, said deputy city attorney Kathryn Lange. The three misdemeanor charges against Hodaji and Adibi have a maximum penalty of 2 years in jail and $21,000 in fines, Lange said.

Adhami has a criminal history that includes six felony convictions from 1992-2000 for receiving stolen property, burglary, auto theft and filing false insurance claims, Lange said. He was sentenced to two years in state prison.

Last year, fish and game wardens cited Hodaji for illegally taking 10 short lobsters and a small sheephead while scuba diving off La Jolla Cove. He pleaded guilty and paid the minimum fine, Lange said.

On April 24, city lifeguards saw the three men lifting a giant sea bass into their boat, which was anchored within the ecological reserve. Police subsequently arrested Adhami, who allegedly killed the 171-pound fish with a spear gun.

Adhami told authorities he wasn't aware he was fishing inside a no-take reserve; he said he felt threatened when the large fish approaching him, so he shot it in self-defense. Divers say giant sea bass are docile and curious creatures incapable of aggressive actions against nonprey.

The incident sparked an outcry from local anglers and diving enthusiasts, who condemned the actions of the alleged poachers.

Giant sea bass, which have been protected since 1982, are recovering after having been scarce for decades due to overfishing.

They can live 100 years and can grow up to 7 feet long and weigh as much as 550 pounds.

State biologists say the giant sea bass killed last month was a mature female estimated to have been 12-15 years old.

"She was a reproductive female, which makes this all that much sadder," said Lange. "She probably had 50 years of reproductive life left."

The 535-acre reserve, established by the city in 1970, is offshore between La Jolla Cove and La Jolla Shores and is marked by buoys and signs on land.

"There is nothing that can be taken from the reserve, except squid with a hand net," said Lange. "Everything else is off-limits."

The City Attorney's Office has prosecuted other fish and game violations, but this is the first case involving the killing of a giant sea bass, Lange said.

"Most divers know better," she said.

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