Illegal marine poaching bill clears first committee

SACRAMENTO — A bill proposing to impose heftier fines on illegal poaching activities in Marine Protected Areas (MPA) cleared its first legislative hurdle, April 10, as the Assembly Committee on Water, Parks and Wildlife voted to push Assembly Bill 2369 (AB 2369) forward.

Assembly member Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher (D-San Diego) introduced AB 2369 earlier this year. The bill proposes fines of $5,000 to $40,000 for businesses found guilty of poaching in an MPA; the first infraction fine could also include up to one year of jail time, as part of a misdemeanor conviction.

A second MPA poaching violation would result on the loss of fishing license, up to one year in jail (also as part of a misdemeanor conviction) and a fine of $10,000 to $50,000.

AB 2369 now heads to the Assembly’s Appropriations Committee; the bill would have to gain the support of the full Assembly before being considered by the State Senate. Gonzalez Fletcher’s bill would go to the governor if it gains majority support in both legislative houses.

Gonzalez Fletcher called illegal MPA poaching a “dire threat to … marine wildlife” and said the current system of fines and punishment is, effectively, a slap on the wrist for local fishing businesses that allegedly poach Marine Protected Areas.

Current law specifically limits fines to $1,000 per violation, according to a legislative analysis of AB 2369; jail sentences are limited to six months.

“In 2015, a commercial fisherman was fined a mere $220 for having set 200 hagfish traps within a no-take State Marine Reserve,” Gonzalez Fletcher stated in defense of AB 2369. “These low fines can be easily absorbed by businesses when catch such as spiny lobster can sell for as much as $32 per pound. In contrast, penalties for the illegal trophy hunting of animals like deer and elk include fines between $5,000 to $40,000, and/or up to a year imprisonment in county jail.”

AB 2369, if signed into law, would also extend the statute of limitations for commercial fishing violations in MPAs from one to three years.

California established a system of MPAs to conserve and protect marine life and habitat. The MPA network, however, has met with pushback from anglers who believe the system is a substantial barrier to fishing.

The final committee vote was 12-1 in favor of the bill, with two committee members not lodging votes. Assembly member Matthew Harper (R-Huntington Beach).

Groups and agencies in support of AB 2369 include Cambria Fishing Club, the city of Encinitas, Los Angeles Waterkeeper, Monterey Bay Aquarium, National Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club and Surfrider Foundation.

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