San Fran DA Prosecuting Commercial Fisherman for Angling in State Marine Reserve

crab trap
A crab trap. File photo: California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin announced May 27 that his office, working with California’s Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW), would pursue a civil prosecution of a commercial fisherman for unlawfully fishing in the North Farallon Islands State Marine Reserve, a highly protected Marine Protected Area.

California Fish & Game Code section 12012.5 makes it a misdemeanor to fish in a Marine Protected Area and imposes fines ranging from $5,000 to $40,000 for the first offense.

Marine Protected Areas are discrete geographic marine or estuarine areas designed to protect or conserve marine life and habitat. Taking any fish from them is unlawful.

“Protecting the environment is a key part of promoting public safety for our community,” Boudin said. “The State Marine Reserves near the Farallon Islands safeguard a wide variety of significant marine life important to the people of California. Crabbing and fishing in these waters is illegal, and my office will hold violators accountable for the harm they cause to this cherished part of San Francisco for their own financial gain.”

“What’s remarkable about this incident is how we learned about it,” Eric Kord, assistant chief for the CDFW’s Marine Enforcement District, said.  “Our officers received an anonymous tip from a commercial fisherman who said he saw another fisherman’s crab traps in the Marine Protected Area. He was concerned that this fisherman’s illegal activities would put other law-abiding fishermen in a bad light.”

“This is a large-scale incident of unlawful take from a Marine Protected Area, and we might not have known about it had another commercial fisherman not reported the illegal activity,” Kord remarked.

Responding to that anonymous tip, CDFW observed 92 crab traps in the North Farallon Islands reserve. The traps were marked with tags and buoys belonging to Tam Tran, a resident of Vallejo, Calif. and his fishing vessel, Pacific Mist. CDFW seized and photographed the traps, then returned over 250 Dungeness crabs that had been trapped back to the reserve.

Authorities brought the lawsuit under California’s unfair competition law, Business & Professions Code section 17200, on the grounds that Tran engaged in unfair competition through unlawful conduct by violating Fish & Game Code section 12012.5, the prohibition on commercial fishermen from taking any fish from a Marine Protected Area.