California seeks to stiffen penalties for illegal marine poaching

SACRAMENTO — A state legislator from San Diego has proposed imposing strict fines and penalties for commercial fishing operations illegally poaching from Marine Protected Areas (MPAs).

Assembly member Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher (D-San Diego) introduced Assembly Bill 2369 on the legislative floor, Feb. 13. The bill, according to Fletcher’s staff, proposes to penalize commercial fishing operations with a fine of up to $50,000 and a one-year jail sentence, depending on poaching activity and number of offenses.

Fletcher’s bill specifically proposes an initial fine of $5,000 to $40,000 and up to one year in jail on a misdemeanor conviction if a passenger fishing vessel or party boat is caught and convicted of poaching fish from an MPA. A second violation would result in fines between $10,000 and $50,000, plus up to one year in jail on a misdemeanor conviction.

AB 2369 would also prevent commercial fishing operations to continue operating while under investigation by prohibiting license or permit transfers.

The Assembly member, in a released statement, acknowledged most people in this space aren’t necessarily poachers. However there are exceptions and those breaching an MPA for fishing purposes should be punished, Fletcher said.

“Most fisherman follow the rules, respect our coast and care about keeping our ocean healthy,” the Assembly member stated. “All the more reason why we need to crack down on those who break these rules that are designed to keep our ocean and the wildlife that live there healthy and vibrant. Hopefully this bill will convince people that illegal poaching isn’t worth it.”

The state established MPAs as a conservation and protection device, with the aim of rehabilitating or maintaining various forms of marine life and habitat.

Fletcher added current penalties for poaching in an MPA are weak. She cited one case from 2015, where authorities fined a commercial fisherman $220 for setting 200 hagfish traps in a no-take marine reserve.

“These paltry fines are simply the cost of doing business when catch such as spiny lobster can sell for as much as $32 per pound. In contrast, penalties for illegal trophy hunting of animals such as deer and elk include fines between $5,000 and $40,000, and up to a year in jail,” Fletcher’s staff said in a released statement.

The Fish and Game Code, Fletcher’s office continued, limits penalties to $1,000 per violation.

Fletcher, who represents the 80th Assembly District, located in southern San Diego County introduced AB 2369 on Feb. 14.

NOAA Fisheries West Coast Region photo

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