DFG seize ileegally caught squid in San Pedro

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Posted by on December 10, 2005 at 10:21:01:

In a huge case for wildlife protectors, a cargo of more than 43 tons of bait fish was seen being sold to a market in San Pedro.

State game wardens have seized more than 43 tons of illegally sold squid in San Pedro, one of the largest confiscations in the agency's history.

After receiving tips that the creatures were being sold for purposes other than bait, wardens staked out a fishing boat along the east side of Catalina Island early Thursday. They followed the boat to the fish markets in the docks of San Pedro, where another warden kept watch, Lt. Kent Smirl said.

Although it is legal to catch squid on the mainland side of the island, they can only be sold for bait. The same sanctions apply to squid caught in the Santa Monica Bay. Only squid captured on the far side of Catalina can be sold to commercial enterprises like restaurant wholesalers.

When wardens saw the captain of the boat accepting money from a fish market, they swooped in.

"They sold it to the market," Smirl said. "We seized it at that point."

Wardens considered the incident serious enough that they will file a complaint against the boat's captain, William Hardgrave of San Pedro, Smirl said. He faces charges on several counts, including illegally catching squid intended for commercial purposes. Fines can reach $1,000 a count, Smirl said.

Officials also seized the large net used to catch the squid, which on Friday was padlocked in front of the boat, Midnight Hour. The net, which is worth about $30,000, will be released if the owner posts a bond.

Hardgrave was not aboard his boat late Friday and could not be found for comment.

The owners of the market were allowed to sell the fish because officials did not want the catch to go to waste. But the $23,000 they paid for the haul was put into an escrow account. Depending on the outcome of criminal proceedings, the money will either be returned or given to the department preservation fund, warden John Potter said. The fund is used to help protect wildlife.

"This is the largest case we've made in quite a long time," Potter said.

The owners of the market were not cited. Smirl did not want the name of the market released because of an ongoing investigation. Squid is valuable both as a bait and as a food, making it a tempting target for illegal sale.

"They have the opportunity to make a lot of money," Smirl said.

With the chance to make money so quickly, it's hard for wardens to keep on top of it, Smirl said.

"We've got so many boats coming in," he said. "We like it when fishermen make money, but we don't want them to do it illegally."

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