Ukiah Daily Journal article + another abalone case


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Posted by on July 02, 2004 at 19:47:37:

In Reply to: Abalone poachers sent to prison posted by on July 01, 2004 at 12:27:04:

State prison sentence in abalone case
By LAURA CLARK/The Daily Journal

Friday, July 02, 2004 -

The two Southern California commercial urchin divers arrested in May in Albion by the California Department of Fish and Game for illegal take and possession of 468 red abalones will never again be allowed to legally pry rainbow-shelled mollusk off salty, wet rocks.

Kurt Alan Ward, 43, and Joshua Holt, 34, both of San Diego, Wednesday were each sentenced to two years in state prison on conviction of felony conspiracy to take abalone for commercial purposes.

The pair was also sentenced to six months in prison for a misdemeanor Fish and Game violation of unlawful take and possession over the limit.

However, Mendocino County Superior Court Judge Henry Nelson chose to run both sentences concurrently, so each man will serve two years total, according to Fish and Game Warden Dennis McKiver.

Ward, referred to by McKiver as the "ringleader with the boat," was fined $40,000 and forfeited his boat and all the diving gear aboard the boat, McKiver said. In addition, Ward's privilege for both sport and commercial fishing was revoked for life.

Holt, too, lost his fishing privileges for life and was ordered to pay a $20,000 fine. His fine is less because he claimed he didn't make as much money in the deal as Ward did, according to McKiver.

Ward and Holt were arrested May 20, after Fish and Game wardens Dennis McKiver and Gary Combes observed them diving off of Elk, and found 468 red abalone in the hold of Ward's urchin boat.

The legal daily limit is three abalone per person, and up to 24 per year, according to Fish and Game.

An abalone is worth anywhere from $50 to $100, McKiver said. Ward and Holt said they were selling their abalone in Mexico for about $25 for a pound of abalone meat, which would average about $50 per abalone, McKiver said.

This case is likely the largest single day abalone bust in the state based on the current black market value of the abalone.

McKiver on Thursday said Fish and Game is happy with the results of the sentencing.

"Hopefully it will send a message to others who might think about unlawfully taking and selling abalone," he said.

Others maybe, but apparently not the three Sacramento men who also appeared in court Wednesday for similar charges.

Danny Wan, Martin Hawkins and McCallier Davis, all of Sacramento, were busted by Fish and Game at a vehicle checkpoint at Chamberlain Creek on Highway 20 between Willits and Fort Bragg on June 5.

The trio was in possession of 34 abalone, 31 of them under the legal size of at least 7 inches.

At first, everything appeared on the up and up when McKiver and Combes stopped the group on their way back from the coast.

Questioned about their catch, Wan said he was the only one who had taken abalone. He said he had three legal abalones in a dive tube.

However, when Combes checked Wan's fishing license and abalone permit report card he noticed Wan had failed to fill it out -- in other words Wan did not document the three abalone he had taken on that June morning.

"Every time you take one you are supposed to document it on the card. The daily limit is three per person and 24 per year. So we had a problem right off the bat," Combes said.

The wardens then asked to see the three abalone. Wan got out of his vehicle, opened the trunk and pulled the dive tube out and displayed three legal abalone. He did not, however, offer to show the wardens the other 31 abalone in his possession.

Combes, suspicious at this point, asked McKiver to look through one of the two coolers in the trunk of the car.

"I was watching Wan as Warden McKiver began to pull the cooler out of the trunk. You can tell a lot about the situation by watching the body language of the individual. So I was watching his face as Warden McKiver grabbed the cooler to pull it out of the trunk. I could see a look of terror on (Wan's) face," Combes said.

McKiver opened the cooler to find 13 abalone, all of which were under legal size. Then Combes left Wan for a moment and grabbed the carry-on bag in the trunk and found the remaining 31 abalone in that, he said.

"Their story was none of them knew about the undersized abalone in the cooler or carry-on bag, or how they got in the trunk. Wan said he only got three abalone; Hawkins said he swam in the ocean but didn't take anything and was just swimming around having a good time; and Davis said he just sat on the bluff by the vehicle watching Wan and Hawkins in the water," Combes said.

Combes questioned the group as to where they stopped that day besides the ocean to dive, and they said they had only stopped once to buy gasoline.

"There were no stops where those abalone could have magically jumped into their trunk," Combes said.

All three men were cited for presumption of commercial take of abalone, unlawful take, unlawful possession, possession of under-sized abalone, failure to document the abalone on the report card, and failure to show upon demand, Combes said.

At Wednesday's preliminary hearing, Wan and Hawkins both pleaded guilty to unlawful possession, and received three years probation, 30 days in jail, and loss of their fishing privileges for two years. Both men were also ordered to pay a $1,000 fine, $100 in restitution, and attorney fees.

The other charges were dismissed.

Davis, who failed to appear, now has a bench warrant out for his arrest, Combes said.



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