Fisherman facing poaching charges

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Posted by on June 18, 2005 at 21:57:47:

100 white sea bass seized by officials

A commercial gill-net fisherman from San Diego has been arrested on suspicion of fishing out of season for white sea bass.

Anthony Charles Makul, 56, was arrested Wednesday - one day before the start of the commercial fishing season for white sea bass - by game wardens from the state Department of Fish and Game. The wardens intercepted his 42-foot vessel at the Cortes Bank, 100 miles west of San Diego.

Wardens seized 100 white sea bass and three-quarters of a mile of gill net, some of which was in the water when authorities made contact with Makul's vessel, the Spirit, officials said. Each fish was in the 20-to 30-pound range and approximately 30 years old, authorities said.

"It's definitely not routine," said game warden Eric Kord, who supervised the investigation. "Due to the obscurity of the Cortes Bank and its distance from the shore, it's not often that we make (a poaching) case out there."

Makul was charged with multiple misdemeanors, including 100 counts of possession of white sea bass out of season, destruction of evidence and interfering with a peace officer, Kord said.

Each misdemeanor carries a maximum penalty of $1,000 and six months in jail upon conviction. Additionally, the state Fish and Game Commission can impose sanctions ranging from a warning to suspension or revocation of Makul's commercial fishing permit.

Makul has held a state gill-net fishing permit since 1991. He previously fished for swordfish, albacore and other species before switching to white sea bass in 2003, said Fish and Game Department representative Carrie Wilson.

The arrest came after an anonymous tipster alleged that Makul was seen last year fishing for white sea bass before the June 15 season opening, Kord said. The tipster identified himself or herself as "a concerned spear fisherman" who was upset over the danger posed by illegal gill nets to scuba divers and the amount of fish being taken by commercial fishermen at Cortes Bank, an underwater mountain that is about 23 miles long and 7 miles wide.

Initially, a game warden was dispatched to fly over the Cortes Bank, but the heavy marine layer made it impossible to see any fishing vessels.

Determined to check out the information provided by the tipster, three game wardens went out to the Cortes Bank - a six-hour trip one way - aboard the 58-foot Thresher, one of the department's new, fast-moving catamaran patrol vessels with a top speed of 30 knots.

The 2,121 pounds of seized white sea bass were sold to a local fish wholesaler, as required by state law. The $4,500 in proceeds was placed in a trust account until the case is resolved.

The waters off Southern California have been fished for white sea bass since the 1890s. The commercial catch exceeded 2 million pounds in 1920, then declined during the next decade. There was a comeback in the 1950s, with the catch peaking at 3 million pounds in 1959 before declining again.

Commercial white sea bass landings - the amount caught and kept - totaled 212,652 pounds in 2000, the most recent year for which statistics were available on the department's Web site. Gill netters accounted for 177,425 pounds, or 83.4 percent of the total commercial landings.

The department's poaching tip line is (888) 334-2258.

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