Commercial Lobster Fisherman Convicted of Poaching in Protected Area

Blue Cavern Offshore State Marine Conservation Area
A map of the Blue Cavern Offshore State Marine Conservation Area. Image via CDFW Marine Region GIS Lab.

After a five-month investigation, a commercial lobster poaching suspect has been found guilty in Los Angeles County Superior Court, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife announced said in December.

The conviction of Rustin Craig Wilson, 37, of Lawndale, is on top of prior commercial lobster poaching convictions and occurred while he was on probation for the prior convictions, according to CDFW.

The investigation into illegal commercial poaching activity was first launched after a series of complaints from legitimate commercial lobster harvesters operating offshore of San Pedro and Palos Verdes in Los Angeles County.

Using a combination of multiple contacts and inspections at sea and at the dock, home visits, analysis of marine navigation equipment seized during the investigation and various surveillance techniques, wildlife officers concluded that Wilson had been engaged in several commercial fishing behaviors that resulted in potential violations of commercial fishing laws and regulations.

Wilson, according to CDFW, had been known to wildlife officers for prior commercial lobster fishing convictions and was in the middle of a 36-month probation for those convictions by a February 13, 2020, court order.

“Several legitimate commercial lobster harvesters were frustrated with the unlawful practices of a rogue colleague who was trapping lobsters in a marine protected area and who also failed to responsibly fish with lobster traps he placed in other areas,” CDFW Deputy Director and Chief of the Law Enforcement Division David Bess explained.

Wilson pleaded no contest to one count of fishing in the Blue Cavern Offshore State Marine Conservation Area, which consists of 7.7 square miles near Santa Catalina island in Southern California. He also pleaded no contest to failure to check his traps within the seven-day required period.

Wilson was ordered to pay $885 in fines and penalties, ordered to perform 30 days of community labor, must forfeit all seized evidence including traps and his GPS plotter and was placed on probation for 12 months.

During his probation, he is prohibited from fishing either commercially or recreationally anywhere in Los Angeles County, including Catalina and San Clemente islands, nor can his vessel be used to fish. He remains restricted by court order from handling the lobster traps of fellow lobster harvesters, commercial or recreational.