Commercial Poachers Convicted For Illegal Fishing In Protected California Waters

California Department of Fish and Wildlife patrol boat Thresher
The California Department of Fish and Wildlife patrol boat Thresher. Photo via CDFW.

A San Diego County judge has imposed a $5,000 fine on a Commercial Passenger Fishing Vessel (CPFV) operating in a Marine Protected Area (MPA), the California Department of Fish and Wildlife said in mid-January.

The fine represents the first implementation of increased commercial poaching fines and penalties under Assembly Bill 2369, authored by former San Diego Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher, who resigned from office in early January. AB 2369, which is specific to illegal activity in California MPAs, went into effect in January 2019.

The case was initiated in December 2020 by wildlife officers aboard the state patrol boat Thresher as a crew monitored Swami’s State Marine Conservation Area, one of many regions of California’s coast protected by designation as an MPA. Swami’s is located midway along the San Diego County coast.

Acting on a tip regarding illegal fishing, officers noticed a vessel, the Electra, on their radar and their Automatic Identification System as it moved inside the northwest corner of the MPA, according to the CDFW.

“As the Thresher approached the Electra, wildlife officers noticed passengers on the boat reeling in lines and keeping fish,” department officials explained in a statement. “After boarding the vessel for inspection, the officers clearly documented commercial passenger fishing vessel activity and cited the vessel’s captain for fishing in the Swami’s (conservation area.)”

The case was solidified, according to the statement, via the shore-based radar Marine Monitor vessel tracking system, which provided further documentation of the vessel’s presence in the MPA.

The Electra is owned by Helgren’s Sportfishing, based out of Oceanside Harbor. In November, the company, through owner Joseph Helgren, pleaded guilty to a violation of Fish and Game Code, section 12012.5, resulting in a fine of $5,000 and an order to stay out of Swami’s for one year.

“The $5,000 minimum fine imposed in the Electra case is the first of its kind since the law was passed,” said David Bess, the department’s deputy director and chief of the law enforcement division. “We hope the Electra case disposition will send a message that commercial fishing in an MPA will be stopped by wildlife officers and will result in substantial fines.”