CDFW Officers Snag Diver off Catalina Island

California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) officers cited a 46-year-old Ventura County man for using rubbing alcohol to force fish out of rocks and capturing them to sell. The diver was cited for two Fish and Game Code violations: use of chemical while collecting marine aquaria and unlawful take of marine aquaria at Catalina Island, which is prohibited by law.

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On the afternoon of Nov. 13, officers from the patrol boat Thresher observed a large recreational sailboat with commercial fishing license numbers painted on the stern anchored in Emerald Bay on the northeast coast of Catalina Island. Officers boarded the boat and found a man sport fishing. The angler told the officers that his partner was SCUBA diving.

Officers entered the 62-degree water and observed a diver squirting a liquid (later determined to be rubbing alcohol) from a bottle into cracks of rocks. The liquid was forcing small fish, Blue Banded Goby (Lythrypnus dalli), into the open water where the man then caught them with a small aquarium fish net and immediately put them in a small plastic receptacle attached to his SCUBA gear. The warden used a mask and snorkel from just below the water’s surface to watch the diver squirt the bottle twice. The warden then dove down, showed the diver his warden identification, and directed the diver to come to the surface. Before ascending, the diver left one of his squirt bottles on the rocks and attempted to drop a small, mesh bag containing another squirt bottle. A warden retrieved both squirt bottles and the mesh bag.

Once on the sailboat, the suspect told the officers he was a licensed marine aquaria collector and his buyers were paying him $10 per fish.  He stated that he did not know it is illegal to use rubbing alcohol to catch the small fish, or that it is illegal to partake in marine aquaria collection operations off Santa Catalina Island.

The diver had 63 goby fish in the plastic receptacle attached to his gear. During the interview, officers saw another plastic sealed container underneath the boat. The second container was holding an additional 109 goby fish.  The fish were counted, photographed and returned to the sea.

The man’s dive gear was seized and charges will be filed with the Los Angeles County District Attorney.

The marine aquaria laws that protect Catalina Island prevent collectors from depleting local species around the island. Collecting marine aquaria from the ocean is legal with the proper permits.

Media Contact:
Lt. Eric Kord, CDFW Law Enforcement (858) 538-6017
Andrew Hughan, CDFW Communications, (916) 322-8944

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CDFW Offshore Enforcement Active at Southern California Lobster Opener

California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) marine officers contacted more than 400 anglers while patrolling Catalina, San Nicholas and the Santa Barbara islands during the recreational lobster season opener that started Sept. 28. During the opening weekend, CDFW wildlife officers issued 35 citations and 26 warnings.

Violations included undersize lobster, overlimit of lobster, lobster report card violations, fishing in a Marine Protected Area (MPA), violations of sheephead, lingcod and commercial sea cucumber regulations, no commercial fishing license and commercial lobster traps wired shut.

Due to the large amount of activity around the offshore islands in past years, CDFW officers deployed three department vessels, the Thresher, Coho and Swordfish, to enforce laws and regulations as well as public safety in the ocean miles off the California coast. Several significant cases were made during the opening weekend, including:

  • After receiving a CalTIP report officers inspected a commercial fishing site and found 14 of 16 lobster traps wired shut rather than open as regulations require. A formal complaint is pending with the District Attorney.
  • A wildlife officer rescued a diver in distress complaining of severe cramping in both legs. After the diver was towed back to his boat, he was found to be in possession of 10 lobsters, four of which were undersized. He was cited for an overlimit and released.
  • Officers observed a boat anchored on the border of the Blue Caverns MPA with one man aboard and a diver with a light swimming in the MPA. When an officer jumped into the water, the diver turned off his light and attempted to outswim the warden to the boat, where another officer was waiting for him to surface. The suspect said he was “only looking” and did not have any lobsters. A second warden entered the water and found the fleeing diver’s game bag with lobster in it. After a search of the boat and gear, the men were found to have 21 lobsters. They were cited for an overlimit, failure to show on demand and diving in a protected reserve.
  • A commercial lobster vessel was setting unbaited, open traps along the Palos Verdes coastline. One of the crew members was found to not have a commercial fishing license and was cited.
  • Officers boarded a 50-foot sport fishing vessel and found the captain operating an unlicensed charter boat operation and charging passengers $900 for the trip. The boat did not have a commercial registration or ocean enhancement stamps. A formal complaint is pending with the District Attorney.
  • At Santa Barbara Island, a diver attempted to distract officers with the classic “what’s that over there?” while trying to drop his dive bag. The warden put on his SCUBA equipment and retrieved the bag 60-feet below the surface. It was filled with nine lobsters, and the diver was cited for an overlimit.
  • While on patrol, the crew of the Swordfish heard a mayday distress call from a 45-foot sport boat less than a mile from their location. The boat was grounding on the rocks of Anacapa Island. They rushed to the scene and pulled the boat off the rocks. A man and his three teenage children were aboard and the boat had a dead battery.

California spiny lobsters are crustaceans that are common from Point Conception to Baja California. Lobster season is generally open from the first Saturday in October through about March 15 and is carefully monitored and regulated. California spiny lobsters are slow-growing animals that biologists estimate take as long as seven years to grow to legal size. Fishermen must have a valid California fishing license with an ocean stamp, a lobster report card and a lobster gauge to measure for proper size.

Media Contacts:
Andrew Hughan, CDFW Communications, (916) 322-8944
Capt. Rebecca Hartman, CDFW Law Enforcement, rebecca.hartman@wildlife.ca.gov

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Abalone Poachers Sentenced to Probation, Community Service, Fined and Lose Gear

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) has noted an apparent increase in abalone poaching in Southern California waters. Potential abalone poachers and the general public should be aware wardens are on the lookout and penalties for illegally taking abalone can be stiff.

Two Southern California men recently pleaded no contest to misdemeanor Fish and Game Code violations in Los Angeles Superior Court. They were each ordered to:

  • Serve three years’ probation;
  • Pay a $2,405 fine;
  • Pay an additional $1,000 fine to the Department of Fish and Wildlife to be used to implement wildlife preservation policies;
  • Successfully complete a 3- to 5-unit marine biology course at a local college;
  • Serve 40 hours of community service, and
  • Forfeit diving and fishing gear.

Curatola abalone-knife

Wade Anthony Curtatola of Rancho Cucamonga was diving off Catalina Island on Sept. 29, 2012, the opening day of lobster season. With no other boats in the area a warden went into the water near where Curtatola surfaced behind a boat and found a spear gun and game bag filled with a horn shark, four abalone and 13 lobster tails in 30 feet of water. Samples of genetic materials taken from Curtatola’s equipment matched the species found in the dive bag. Curtatola pleaded to misdemeanor counts of taking abalone in a closed area, over-limit of lobster and possession of tailed lobster.

“All it takes is one drop of blood, or a few cells from an animal to make positive identifications of illegally taken species,” said Lt. Eric Kord, CDFW Law Enforcement. “CDFW and our partners are using the latest tools and technology to help protect California’s resources.”

Bruce Allen Boyd of Oceanside was fishing off Catalina Island the same day, Sept. 29, when wildlife officers boarded his boat for an inspection. Wildlife officers found a dive bag with a large abalone concealed in a trash can. The abalone was photographed and returned to the ocean. Boyd was charged with one violation and pleaded to a misdemeanor count of taking abalone in a closed area.

It has been illegal to take abalone since 1997 in the southern half of the state (San Francisco Bay south to Mexican border) due to over fishing, disease and sea otter predation.

“We have seen a pretty sharp rise in abalone poaching here in Southern California over the last 18 months or so,” said Kord. “Most anglers are responsible fishermen and know the laws; the enforcement is to protect resources from the rest.”

Illegally taking abalone has some of the highest penalties in the Fish and Game Code, and can include of up to a year in jail, fines in the thousands of dollars, permanent loss of fishing licenses and confiscation of fishing and diving gear.

 

Media Contacts:
Lt. Eric Kord, CDFW Law Enforcement, (858) 538-6017
Andrew Hughan, CDFW Communications, (916) 322-8944

Portions of the Blue Cavern State Marine Conservation Area to Reopen for Anchoring and Mooring

Media Contact:
Stephen Wertz, DFG Marine Region, (562) 342-7184

The California Fish and Game Commission (Commission) has adopted anemergency regulation for a portion of Blue Cavern State Marine Conservation Area (SMCA) at Catalina Island. 

Map illustrates location of Blue Cavern State Marine Conservation Area at Catalina Island.

Effective April 30, 2012, anchoring and mooring will be allowed within a previously restricted portion of the Blue Cavern SMCA.   

The anchoring and mooring restrictions, which were unintentionally carried over from the existing Catalina Marine Science Center Marine Life Refuge (Refuge), became a public safety concern after recent implementation of Blue Cavern SMCA, subsection 632(b)(102), Title 14, California Code of Regulations.

All current take restrictions remain in effect throughout the Blue Cavern SMCA. 

Authority remains for the Refuge director to allow anchoring, mooring or take of marine life for scientific purposes within the Refuge under the conditions prescribed in a scientific collecting permit issued by DFG.

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