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Posted by . on March 02, 2004 at 23:27:20:

In Reply to: sad news, death off of Redondo Beach last night posted by jlyle on March 01, 2004 at 08:32:23:

Alleged Poacher Dies Tangled in a Trapline
Authorities suspect Mark Willey was illegally fishing for lobster, but friends say he was unfairly targeted.
By Kevin Pang and J. Michael Kennedy
Times Staff Writers

March 3, 2004

Mark Willey was a popular figure in the Redondo Beach fishing scene, always bringing fresh half-and-half to fellow fishermen for morning coffee and later chatting about the day's catch at Captain Kidd's fish market.

But for several years, the California Department of Fish and Game suspected Willey of illegally poaching lobsters from restricted areas in Santa Monica Bay, and last month authorities spent a night on an elaborate stakeout of his boat.

Early Monday, they came across Willey's empty boat moving in circles off the coast of Hermosa Beach, with $2,000 worth of lobsters stacked in bins.

They pulled up a lobster trap from 70 feet below the surface and found Willey's body, a rope tangled around his legs.

Authorities believe he was night fishing for lobster which is illegal and kept his lights off to avoid detection. They suspect he didn't see that a rope was wrapped around his leg when he hoisted the trap into the water, and it pulled him overboard.

"He was trying to conceal his purpose, to thwart the responsibilities of the Fish and Game Department," said Hermosa Beach Harbor Patrol spokesman Paul Wolcott. "He paid the ultimate price in doing that illegal behavior."

Friends and family, mourning his death Tuesday, said authorities were wrong about the 37-year-old. They described him as a hard worker who was unfairly targeted along with other lobster fishermen by state marine officials.

"It's one speck that overshadows his life," said his wife, Candace Willey. "They put tons of pressure on [fishermen], always trying to shut down their fishing spots. They're always trying to shut down their livelihoods. It's always been a heartache."

Around Captain Kidd's, Willey was known as the Gentle Giant for his 6-foot-5 frame and good looks.

"He's an honest, hard-working person," said John Mills, owner of the fish market, where Willey sold his seafood for the last 15 years. "He was like a member of the family that you worked with every day, a family member that you got along with."

Willey grew up in the South Bay and was never far from the ocean. At age 12, he got a job as a maintenance boy on a barge located a mile off the coast of Redondo Beach. The experience, friends said, sparked a lifelong love for the ocean and fishing.

He attended Mira Costa High School in Manhattan Beach. He was a standout volleyball player, good enough to make the professional circuit if he had not hurt his wrist, said Candace Willey. From there, he quickly began his career as a fisherman.

The state Department of Fish and Game had suspected Willey of poaching lobster for nearly a decade, but never had enough evidence to file charges, said spokesman Lt. Dan Sforza.

State law prohibits lobster trapping in certain areas along the coast. It also restricts fishermen from hunting lobster at night in many areas. The goal, officials said, is to prevent a small group of fishermen from collecting the entire lobster catch.

From fishing in restricted areas, to illegal trap configurations and license violation, lobster poachers account for hundreds of violations off California's coast, Sforza said. The misdemeanor offense can carry a $1,000 fine and up to six months in jail. Repeat offenders may lose their permits.

On a cold night in mid-February, Sforza and five other wardens from the California Department of Fish and Game gathered at their Los Alamitos headquarters to plan a stakeout on Willey. They said they had received a tip that Willey was poaching lobsters that night in Santa Monica Bay, where trapping is banned.

Sforza briefed the other wardens about what they would be doing throughout the all-night stakeout. When he finished, the group split up. Wardens Rod Buckler and John Potter headed for Long Beach, where they boarded a patrol skiff.

Wardens Christian Carbo and Rob Rojas towed their skiff to the bay, while Rebecca Hartman took her place in a parking lot where she had a clear view of Willey's boat. Her job as lookout was to radio the others when Willey headed out to sea.

Once before, they said, they had tried to follow him, but he had turned off all running lights and escaped in the darkness.

But at 5 a.m., it was apparent Willey was not going to empty a set of traps that were connected by ropes in the bay.

"I don't think he was coming out tonight," said Potter, as the first glimmer of light appeared in the east.

"Well, I guess you were right," Buckler replied.

Willey's family said state officials had been harassing the fisherman unfairly. They point out that he was never charged with wrongdoing despite all the scrutiny. "You won't find anyone who would say a bad word against Mark," Mills said.



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