Suspected abalone poaching probed

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Posted by on October 29, 2007 at 10:14:58:

Fish and Game agency investigates Oct. 17 incident in which diver drowned, 2 rescued

The California Department of Fish and Game is investigating a report that a group of Bay Area abalone divers may have been poaching when they were overcome by rough water and large swells off the Mendocino County coast last week.

Two men who managed to climb to relative safety on a rocky outcropping were rescued from the wild surf between Fort Bragg and Westport, but a third man, an Oakland resident, drowned in the Oct. 17 incident, authorities said.

Rescue authorities, including a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter crew who nearly overtaxed their aircraft to make the nighttime rescue in rain and gusting winds, were stunned by the divers' decision to venture out in conditions that were perilous and included 18-foot swells, officials said.

Fish and Game Lt. Dennis McKiver, an abalone enthusiast himself, said he and another warden had driven by the cove earlier in the day and thought that conditions were too difficult for diving.

McKiver now wonders if the divers weren't out in such weather knowing wardens would be unlikely to expect them.

"No sane person going out on a legal abalone dive would have been out there at that time of the evening in that kind of weather," he said.

As many as eight people were involved in the incident, though it remained unclear how many had been suited up for diving versus watching from the bluff, he said.

Some of them apparently had been employed by Yong Lu, 46, of Oakland, who perished in the waves, McKiver said. His body was recovered the next day.

Fish and Game personnel were dispatched after they were alerted by the Coast Guard that a person at the scene had spotted members of the dive party standing on the cliff and emptying containers of abalone into the water while law enforcement was en route, McKiver said.

Officials investigating the incident were not able to determine how many abalone were dumped and whether it was more than the diving party was authorized to have, McKiver said.

He noted that no abalone were left when Fish and Game personnel arrived.

New regulations intended to help authorities track abalone and monitor their collection more closely go before the Fish and Game Commission on Nov. 2, with adoption expected Dec. 7, authorities said.

The regulations include tags to be issued with abalone report cards requiring that divers and shore pickers affix their allotted tags immediately to their catch.

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