SCAN & RFA Tackle Illegal Commercialization Of Wildlife

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Posted by Curt Degler on September 18, 2007 at 02:11:08:

A bill working its way through the California state legislature, AB 1187, would increase poaching penalties and tighten loopholes in existing law for people convicted of illegally commercializing sturgeon, abalone and lobster. Existing law provides for an additional charge of the "rebuttable presumption" of possession for illegal commercial gain, when an individual is convicted of possessing twelve or more abalone. Sponsored by the Natural Resources Defense Council, AB 1187 (De Saulnier) would change the language of "rebuttable presumption" to "prima facie evidence" of commercial poaching, and include sturgeon and lobster in this category. The proposed law sets a threshold of 12 abalone and two times the daily bag limit of sturgeon (the bag limit is currently one sturgeon, so possession of two or more sturgeon would be evidence of commercialization.)

The reason for this proposed change, as it affects abalone poachers, is that we received suggestions from local prosecutors that the "rebuttable presumption" language was too weak. A note from one's mother about how many mouths you had to feed seemed to be enough for some judges.

Members of the DFG enforcement community pushed for the inclusion of black bass, lobster, striped bass and salmon in the bill. However, the fishing and hunting representatives involved in the legislative discussions (the RFA and the California Waterfowl Association) were concerned that including too many other species in this bill might jeopardize its passage. We strongly felt that the pressure of illegal commercialization was so great on sturgeon, abalone and lobster, that extraordinary measures were justified. We did not want people who might store up fish in their freezers for personal use to get caught in a law designed to tackle illegal commercial poaching. The penalties proposed in AB 1187 are severe: lifetime loss of license, forfeiture of gear and vehicle, $2500- $15,000 in fines, and jail time. We wanted to focus our efforts on the illegal commercialization of wildlife, not violations based on personal use. While overlimits in the recreational fishery should be ticketed, we want to reserve these extreme penalties for true commercial poaching cases. Assemblyman De Saulnier's staff person at the meeting, Lucas Freirich, indicated that their office would be interested in introducing a new bill next year that would be more comprehensive and consistent for all overlimit cases related to commercial poaching. Kate Wing of the NRDC drafted an overview of laws in different states to deal with issues of overlimits and commercialization of wildlife. Everyone was in agreement that we should consider a three-tiered penalty for overlimits. This will require discussions with broad constituencies with the goal of consistent penalties for overlimits on all fish and game species. As of this writing, the bill received unanimous support in the state Senate, and is awaiting concurrance from the Assembly. SCAN has been an integral part of the effort to put the hurt on abalone poachers. Board members Milo Vukovich, Jim Martin and George Lawry attended a meeting to discuss legislative efforts with the DFG and this bill is an outgrowth of that continuing discussion.

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