Men plead not guilty to conspiring to kill giant sea bass, the first place to look for a dive instructor

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Posted by on June 02, 2005 at 18:55:00:

Omid Adhami, left, pleads not guilty to misdemeanor charges in the poaching of a giant sea bass in the La Jolla Marine Conservation Area on April 24. To his right is attorney James A. D'Ambrosio.

Not guilty pleas were entered Thursday morning for the spear fishermen and boat operator accused of misdemeanor conspiracy in the killing of a protected giant sea bass in the La Jolla ecological reserve, an act that outraged local divers and anglers.

Fisherman Omid Adhami - who authorities said admitted spearing the fish, saying he felt it threatened him - was the only one of the three men to appear in court. The others, Nima Hodaji and boat operator Navid Adibi, were represented by their lawyers.

The men were ordered to return to court June 30 for the next step in their legal proceedings. They remain free on bail.

San Diego Superior Court Judge David G. Brown declined a prosecutor's request to raise Adhami's bail. The judge ordered the three men to stay away from the preserve and to fish only with a valid fishing license.

The three men are accused in the killing of the 171-pound bass on April 24 within the San Diego-La Jolla Ecological Reserve and were seen by city lifeguards lifting it into a boat. The boat was anchored in the 535-acre marine preserve which is located between La Jolla Cove and La Jolla Shores.

"It's a pretty serious crime in terms of California resources," Erik Fleet, a warden with the state Department of Fish and Game, said in an interview. "It's like going to a dairy and shooting a dairy cow for sport."

Hodaji was in the water with Adhami, while Adibi was operating the boat that took the two divers into the preserve.

Hodaji's attorney said his client committed no crime.

"It appears my client was at the wrong area at the wrong time." said defense attorney Kerry Steigerwalt.

All three men are chargedwith two counts each of misdemeanor conspiracy in connection with the alleged poaching incident.

In addition, Adhami, 34, is charged with unlawfully killing the protected fish inside the reserve and possession of a protected species; Hodaji,26, with unlawfully spearing a sheephead, a legal game fish, inside the reserve; and Adibi, 22, with possession of a protected species.

The mature female black sea bass was a docile creature that was known to local divers and was estimated to be 12 to 15 years old. The species can live up to 100 years, can weigh up to 550 pounds and grow to 7 feet long, and has been protected in California since 1982.

Fleet said that a necropsy on the fish showed she was carrying 32 million eggs, which means she could have successfully spawned 240 offspring. Another warden said she could have lived for perhaps 80 more years.

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