Marked lobsters spring trap on suspects

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Posted by msblucow on March 19, 2007 at 09:53:10:

By Louis Sahagun, Times Staff Writer
8:07 AM PDT, March 19, 2007

A three-month undercover investigation on the high seas ended before dawn today when state game wardens arrested two men found in possession of about 500 lobsters trapped illegally in Santa Monica Bay.

The men were arrested without incident at a Cerritos Channel marina as they prepared to unload their catch, unaware that it included marked lobsters placed inside their wire-mesh traps a week earlier by Department of Fish and Game divers.

The mark -- a tiny diamond-shaped hole that would not occur in nature -- had been punched into the lobsters' tails, said state Department of Fish and Game Dan Sforza, one of two divers who seeded the suspects' traps set 116 feet below the surface.

"We had about 10 minutes to get down there and put the lobsters inside their traps -- that's not a lot of time to fool around," Sforza said. "A lot of effort went into this case. I feel pretty good about how it went down."

The names of the suspects, who were transported to the Long Beach Police Department, were not immediately available. The lobsters seized from their boat were taken to a San Pedro fish market, where they were expected to fetch about $10 a pound, authorities said.

The proceeds were to be deposited into a special account. "If the suspects prevail in court, they'll get the money back," said Department of Fish and Game Capt. Martin Maytorena. "If they're found guilty, the money will go into a Department of Fish and Game preservation fund."

Investigators believe the owner of the boat had trapped the pricey crustaceans in the same location about two to three miles offshore, where lobster fishing has been off-limits for decades, several times since the lobster season began on the first Wednesday of October.

"We estimate he's fished that area once a week," Maytorena said, "and we caught him in the act."

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