Illegal fish poaching bill unanimously approved by California Assembly

SACRAMENTO — A proposal to crack down on illegal fish poaching activities by commercial fishing operations earned the support of the California Assembly, as the lower house voted 73-0 in favor of Assembly Bill 2369, or AB 2369.

Assembly member Lorena Gonzalez-Fletcher, D-San Diego introduced the bill earlier this year. Her proposal specifically targets commercial fishing operations found poaching fish from California’s network of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs).

Gonzalez-Fletcher’s staff stated AB 2369 is “an important step in preserving the delicate coastal ecosystem” of the MPA network.

Passenger fishing vessels and party boats are also targeted in Gonzalez-Fletcher’s bill.

AB 2369 would, according to Gonzalez-Fletcher’s staff, “stiffen penalties and serve as an important deterrent to some of the worst offenders, including passenger fishing vessels, or party boats, that poach in Marine Protected Areas.”

“Under this bill, a business that violates the law could be fined $5,000 to $40,000 and face up to a year in jail on a misdemeanor conviction. Penalties for a second violation would be a loss of fishing license, a fine of $10,000 to $50,000, and up to a year in jail on a misdemeanor conviction,” the Assembly member’s staff continued.

Gonzales-Fletcher, in a released statement, said stiff fines are the only option to reduce illegal poaching activities within the MPA network.

“California’s protected marine areas have a very delicate ecosystem, and greedy poachers can do an enormous amount of damage,” Gonzalez-Fletcher said. “Pleas to these poachers’ sense of decency and the current nominal fines don’t seem to work, but I’m pretty sure the threat of a hefty fine will get their attention.”

AB 2369 does not affect legal takes of fish within the MPA network.

“Illegally catching fish within a restricted area like a MPA is an unfair competitive advantage for the holder of a commercial fishing license or the operator of a commercial passenger fishing boat,” a legislative analysis of AB 2369 stated. “Illegal fishing activity in MPAs depletes fish populations and undermines efforts to ensure sustainable fisheries for the future. It also damages the economic and social welfare of those involved in legal fishing, and reduces incentives to play by the rules.”

MPAs have been at the center of a heated debate between fishing interests and state officials. Proponents of the network claim MPAs are necessary to conserve and protect marine life and habitat. Opponents, meanwhile, argue marine life protections aren’t necessary or too expensive to enforce.

Current law calls for MPA poachers to be fined up to $1,000 per violation.

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