Illegal ocean poaching bill signed into law

SACRAMENTO — Environmental groups won a major policy win on Aug. 24 when Gov. Jerry Brown signed Assembly Bill 2369 (AB 2369) into law. The new law, which was proposed earlier this year by Assembly member Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher, D-San Diego, cracks down on illegal fishing activities by commercial fishing operations.

Passenger fishing vessels, party boats and others who navigate into California’s Marine Protected Areas, or MPAs, and are found guilty of poaching will, after Jan. 1, 2019, face stiffer fines and penalties.

State officials hope the stiffer fines and penalties would serve as a major deterrent to illegal fishing or poaching activities in protected stretches of the California coast. Any passenger fishing vessel or party boat caught and convicted of illegal fishing or poaching would face fines of $5,000 to $40,000 and face up to one year in jail. The conviction would be classified as a misdemeanor.

Violating the new law for a second time would, if convicted, result in a misdemeanor, the loss of fishing license, a fine of $10,000 to $50,000 and up to one year in jail. Commercial fishing operations would be prohibited during the investigation of the second offense; the business, for example, could not transfer the fishing license to someone else to sustain operations.

“AB 2369 will prevent this situation by prohibiting the transfer of a permit or commercial fishing license before resolution of pending civil, criminal or administrative action that may affect the status of the permit,” a statement issued by Gonzalez Fletcher’s office stated.

The Assembly member’s office added her approved proposal was necessary to preserve “the delicate coastal ecosystems of our state’s Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), established in California to protect and conserve marine life and habitat.”

“This law is an important step in preserving the very delicate coastal ecosystems in California’s protected marine areas,” Gonzalez Fletcher said in a released statement. “These greedy poachers have done an enormous amount of damage, showing that the current penalties are nominal to their bottom line and they don’t seem to work. I’m pretty sure this new law’s threat of a hefty fine will get their attention.”

Gonzalez Fletcher’s bill cleared the State Senate by a 37-0 vote on Aug. 6; the proposal passed out of the Assembly on Aug. 9 by a 77-0 vote, allowing it to be presented to Brown for signature.

The existence of MPAs in California, in general, has proven to be somewhat of a divisive issue, with environmental groups on side and anglers on the other. Environmental groups have, like Gonzalez Fletcher, defended MPAs as a necessary tool to preserve or improve marine habitats off the California coast. Anglers, however, argue the network of Marine Protected Areas provided them with fewer areas to drop lines.

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