Seven arrested for alleged roles in abalone-poaching ring

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Posted by on September 18, 2007 at 02:14:20:

In Reply to: SCAN & RFA Tackle Illegal Commercialization Of Wildlife posted by Curt Degler on September 18, 2007 at 02:11:08:

By Mark Gomez
San Jose Mercury News
Article Launched: 09/06/2007 01:11:38 PM PDT

A one-month undercover operation by the California Department of Fish and Game resulted in the arrests this morning of seven South Bay residents who allegedly took part in an abalone-poaching ring off the Sonoma County coast.

The group included buyers and sellers, according to Fish and Game Lt. Kathy Ponting, who said the divers illegally harvested hundreds of abalone and sold them on the black market.

Ponting, who oversees the special operations unit that conducted the investigation called "Hat Trick," said some of the individuals arrested had been cited previously for abalone violations. During the abalone season, divers are limited to three abalone per day, and no more than 24 during the season that runs from April-June and August-November. Ponting said her unit, which first began surveillance Oct. 1, has proof that divers each took more than 40 abalone in the past month.

"If you look at this case, how many years they've been diving, we're looking at thousands and thousands of abalone that this core group has harvested for monetary gain," said Ponting, who later added that "none of the divers appear to have any other sort of income."

Among those arrested were four men and two women from San Jose: Chien Van Tran, 47; Bot Van Ho, 50; To Tran, 56; Andy Van Le, 54; Oanh Thi Tran, 47; Cuu Thi Nguyen, 51. Van Le and Su-Jan Lin Chuang, 49, of Cupertino, are allegedly the buyers, Ponting said.

The group were booked into San Jose Main Jail and will ace charges in Sonoma County ranging from conspiracy to commit a crime (a felony), and unlawful commercialization of wildlife, harvest of abalone for commercial purpose (which carries a $15,000 to $40,000 fine), unlawful possession of abalone, over-limit of seasonal harvest, and failure to fill out an abalone card.

The divers are facing the most severe sentences, Ponting said, and could go to prison for three years.

The investigation began when the Department of Fish and Game received a call on its tip line. Once officials realized it was the same group that had been cited previously, they decided to dedicate their efforts to dismantling the illegal operation.

Harry Morse, a spokesman for Fish and Game, said the poachers were only going after large abalone, which can fetch between $80 to $100 each on the black market. Abalone is considered a delicacy and aphrodisiac, according to the state Department of Fish and Game, and is used for medicinal purposes.

The north coast of California has always been closed to the commercial take of abalone, according to Fish and Game, allowing only for limited method of harvesting, including rock-picking and free diving.

"The black market from California fish and wildlife annually is thought to be well over $100 million, second only to the drug trade," Ponting said.

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