Abalone poachers convicted

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Posted by on November 04, 2005 at 19:54:44:

Three San Francisco men convicted yesterday of illegally plucking 56 abalone from San Mateo County waters on Fourth of July 2004 face thousands of dollars in fines and a lifetime ban on all fishing.

Jianyang Huang, 22, Zi Qi Tan, 33, and Yao Quin Zhuang, 28, were all charged with taking abalone during a time of moratorium on fishing for abalone without a license. After a day of deliberations, the jury convicted Tan and Zhuang of both charges while Huang, the group’s lookout, was acquitted of the second misdemeanor fish and game offense.

The men face $15,000 per conviction. Added assessments could push the amount up to $47,000 each, said Chief Deputy District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe.

During sentencing next month, Judge Jonathan Karesh will review whether the added fees are mandatory.

The conviction also means a forfeiture of all seized diving gear, a lifetime ban on commercial and sport fishing and revocation of all fishing licenses.

The three men were arrested July 4, 2004 after a local fish and game officer spotted them walking on Franklin Point near Año Nuevo. The officer spotted Huang standing on a bluff and saw the others on the beach in wet suits. Nearby, a container held the 56 abalone and diving gear, according to the case presented by prosecutor Shin-Mee Chang.

Huang testified Wednesday that they were just swimming but had seen “some Vietnamese guys in the area” who must be responsible, Wagstaffe said.

The other two defendants did not take the stand before the jury retired to deliberate Thursday morning. Among the evidence considered was the testimony of a abalone poaching expert Don Kelly and 26 photos of the crime scene.

In 1997, the state Legislature banned commercial abalone fishing south of San Francisco to the Mexican border because of a dwindling population and declared white abalone endangered under the Marine Life Protection Act. During abalone season, divers are limited to three per day north of San Francisco.

The waters off Año Nuevo State Park are also considered a great white shark attack danger area for abalone divers, according to experts.

Prosecuting poaching is not unusual for San Mateo County but defendants tend to plead no contest rather than take the case to trial, Wagstaffe said.

In April, a Chinese restaurant cook received three years probation and a fine after pleading no contest to poaching 20 abalone in November 2003.

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