Illegally setting a lobster pot...caught in line and drowned (+)

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Posted by jlyle on March 02, 2004 at 06:32:19:

In Reply to: Re: Fisherman's Body Pulled Ashore In Redondo Harbor posted by Sven on March 01, 2004 at 23:19:54:

Fisherman entangled in rope drowns off Hermosa Beach

By Larry Altman Daily Breeze

A fisherman illegally setting lobster traps off Hermosa Beach drowned early Monday when his leg became entangled in a rope that dragged him overboard, authorities said.

Mark Willey, 37, of Redondo Beach had been under investigation for allegedly poaching lobsters in a prohibited area designed to protect wildlife off the South Bay shoreline, said Steve Martarano, a spokesman for the state Department of Fish and Game.

"We've heard of his illegal activity for a while," Martarano said.

Willey's death was deemed an accident. Working alone about a mile off Second Street, Willey was within a part of the Santa Monica Bay where lobster fishing is illegal.

Willey had turned off his boat's lights, police said. State laws prohibit lobster fishing -- even in legal areas -- before sunrise.

"He has been a subject of interest for quite a while," said Frank Spear, a Fish and Game chief. "He is pretty elusive. He is in a closed area and he can't fish in those hours. He is blacking out so he can't be seen."

One of Willey's friends operating another boat called the Redondo Beach Harbor Patrol office at 5 a.m. when he found Willey's boat running in circles, Redondo Beach fire Division Chief Dan Madrigal said.

Harbor Patrol officers called the U.S. Coast Guard and county lifeguards to assist them when they noticed that the boat -- the 27-foot Hail Storm -- appeared to be unmanned. The Harbor Patrol maneuvered next to the Hail Storm, butted up against it and brought it under control.

Unable to find a body in the water, Harbor Patrol officers decided to tow the boat into the marina. One of the officers began pulling up a line that at first appeared to be an anchor, but actually was a lobster trap, Madrigal said.

"As they continued to pull about 60 feet of line in, they found the body of the boat operator ," Madrigal said. "It appears he was trying to set a lobster trap over the side and the rope got entangled around his leg and pulled him over."

Traps weigh as much as 50 pounds, authorities said.

Willey's wife, Candace, said her husband fished six days a week, often in the early morning hours. He sold his catch primarily to Captain Kidd's fish market and restaurant in Redondo Beach.

"He's been commercial fishing since he was 19 years old," she said. "He loved it. It was being out on the ocean, not being confined to anything. He would call me at work and make me listen to the dolphins and the sea gulls."

Willey -- the stepfather of 8-year-old Trevor, and father of 3-year-old Hayley -- also fished for mackerel, sheephead and tuna and loved to travel to San Diego and Mexico, his wife said.

"He was one hell of a family man," his wife said. "I never met a man whose family meant more to him than his did."

Willey left home at 1:30 a.m. Monday. His wife said last week's stormy weather meant he had to work "crazy hours" to make up for lost time.

In an October 2001 Daily Breeze article, Willey said he was against the planned implementation of the 1999 Marine Life Protection Act, passed by the state Legislature to close a portion of California's coast to form underwater "national parks."

The law, which has not been implemented, would close a large area off the Palos Verdes Peninsula, where Willey kept about 95 percent of his 170 lobster traps. Willey circulated a petition against the act.

"It's pretty scary what they want to do," Willey said at the time. "That would basically put me out of business. They are just coming too hard, too fast, with too many regulations."

Martin Maytorena, captain of the Fish and Game Department's Los Alamitos-based Southern California marine region, said Willey's boat carried unlawful "spreader gear" traps designed to bob below the surface to elude detection.

Legal lobster traps are attached to buoys that rise above the surface. Willey's boat also carried about 10 to 15 lobsters.

"Potentially there were several violations: Fishing during hours of darkness, take of lobster from a closed area and use of unlawful gear," Maytorena said.

Each offense carries a maximum term of six months in jail and up to a $1,000 fine.

Besides hurting the environment, lobster poachers hold an unfair advantage over fishermen who trap lobsters with legal gear in legal areas. Now at the end of the season, trappers are bringing in lobsters in small catches only in the tens of pounds.

"When you have (lobsters) coming in in the hundreds of pounds, it really is an unfair advantage," Maytorena said.

John Mills, owner of Captain Kidd's, said it was a shame if Willey died with a cloud over his head.

"For 15 years, Mark's always been a straight-up guy," he said. "We're all pretty much in shock."

Publish Date:March 2, 2004

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