Abalone poachers busted in raid

Outer Bamnks diving on the Great Escape Southern California Live-Aboard Dive Boat

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Posted by on October 01, 2004 at 13:46:56:

In Reply to: The Abalone Poacher perp walk posted by on October 01, 2004 at 13:45:34:

Friday, October 01, 2004 - An undercover Department of Fish and Game operation snared four members of an alleged abalone poaching ring Thursday, including the ring-leader suspected of poaching more than a dozen of the slow-growing mollusks on the black market.

The four are charged with buying and selling red abalone. Each count carries a $40,000 fine and a year in county jail.

The alleged ring-leader, Li Sheng Chen, 52, was arrested Thursday morning at his apartment in San Francisco and faces multiple counts of illegally catching and selling abalone, according to the department.

Three alleged buyers -- Wu Qiang Zhang, 40, Nichole Zhang Li, 43, and Betty Ai Hang Guo, 30, all of San Francisco -- each face one count of buying abalone and were also arrested and taken into custody. Hang Guo was booked in San Mateo County Jail, as wardens saw her allegedly buy abalone in that county.

The department also interviewed 11 others in Richmond, San Francisco and Daly City as part of the early-morning sting.

Red abalone, which live among rocky kelp from the Oregon Coast to Baja California, are particularly prized among sport fishermen. California sport fishing laws allow for the taking of three abalone per day, 24 per year, and only in waters north of San Francisco.

Commercial sales have been prohibited since a brief three-year period during World War II.

Abalone grow slowly, taking up to 10 years to reach legal size. Compounding the problem is their reproductive rate, which for reasons unknown has been minimal for nearly a decade, according to Fish and Game biologists.

"Poaching continues to be a major concern to the long-term sustainability of the state's red abalone population," said Fish and Game Capt. Tony Warrington in a statement announcing the arrests.

The five-month investigation by the department's Special Operations Unit recorded Chen allegedly selling more than a dozen abalone, said spokesman Troy Swauger. Most sales numbered just two or three mollusks, but on at least two occasions undercover wardens filmed him allegedly selling nine abalone, he said.

Swauger said Chen received $100 per abalone.

Chen would allegedly drive to the North Coast with other divers, take abalone, and then return to sell them that day in San Francisco, Swauger said.

Fish and Game was tipped off to the ring after wardens patrolling the coast noticed suspicious activity and called in the undercover unit.

"They're doing their jobs and they're watching these guys," Swauger said of the wardens. "If you're out there, we're watching you."

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