Diver Arrested For Taking Abalone To Sell

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Posted by on October 10, 2004 at 20:42:16:

In Reply to: Abalone bust posted by on October 10, 2004 at 04:15:01:

Log News Service - A five-month investigation into the taking of red abalone for commercial purposes and unlawfully selling abalone taken under sport licenses culminated Sept. 30 with four arrests by state Department of Fish and Game wardens.

Wardens from the department’s covert Special Operations Unit launched the investigation in May after uncovering the alleged ring. Surveillance by members of the unit eventually linked more than a dozen people from San Francisco, Richmond, and Daly City to the ongoing illegal enterprise.

Wardens arrested Li Sheng Chen, 52, when they served a search warrant at his apartment in San Francisco. They described Chen as the ringleader of a group of divers who regularly traveled to the coasts of Sonoma and Mendocino counties to get the legal limit of three abalone each.

The abalone were then sold on the streets of San Francisco, according to authorities.

“He was apparently doing most of the selling, getting $100 an abalone,” Troy Swauger, a spokesman for Fish and Game told the Associated Press.

Chen was charged with procuring abalone to sell, authorities said.

Three others, Wu Qiang Zhang, 40, Nichole Zhang Li, 43, and Betty Ai Hang Guo, 30, all of San Francisco, have been charged with illegally purchasing abalone.

The department said that charges were filed with the San Francisco District Attorney’s Environmental Unit.

“Sale of abalone will not be tolerated in San Francisco. We will do everything we can to prosecute the offenders and protect this natural treasure,” said Debbie Mesloh, spokeswoman for the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office.

Each charge of taking abalone for commercial purposes and selling or buying abalone is subject to up to a $40,000 fine and a year in county jail. That is in addition to the potential loss of fishing privileges for life.

Two dozen wardens involved in the operation knocked on the doors of 10 homes on Sept. 30 where, in addition to the four taken into custody, they interviewed 11 people believed connected with the case.

The department launched the operation after wardens monitoring the northern coast off Mendocino County spotted the divers taking more abalone than the legal limit. Mendocino and Sonoma counties account for 96 percent of the state’s sport abalone activity.

Wardens watched the suspects for several weeks as they traveled between the north coast and the Bay area where they sold the abalone. Twice, wardens watched while sales of numerous abalones occurred.

California sportfishing regulations allow for the take of three red abalone per day, 24 per year, with a maximum possession of no more than three at any time. Sportfishing for abalone is allowed only north of San Francisco Bay from April 1 through November with July closed.

“Poaching continues to be a major concern to the long-term sustainability of the state’s red abalone population,” said DFG Capt. Tony Warrington. “With the success of this operation and the arrest of these suspects, DFG is eliminating another threat to this valuable resource.”

The Special Operations Unit is the department’s undercover law-enforcement component. The unit uses wardens on long- and short-term assignments to search out and apprehend unlawful commercial operations.

Past cases have also involved the unlawful sale of sturgeon and sturgeon parts, abalone, reptiles, and bear parts.

Surveys have shown no significant reproductive events in red abalone in more than a decade. The growth rate of north-coast red abalone is extremely slow, taking up to 10 years for abalone to reach legal size.

Red abalone is associated with rocky kelp habitat ranging from Oregon into Baja California. In Northern and Central California, red abalone is found from the inter-tidal to the shallow sub-tidal depths.

The Southern California fishery was closed in 1997 due to its near depletion. A successful red abalone sport-only fishery continues to the north of San Francisco County, where scuba has always been prohibited and commercial take was only allowed for a three-year period during World War II.

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