Category Archives: Enforcement

Plentiful Fishing for Crappie Proves Tempting for Poachers

Wildlife Officers Keeping a Close Eye Out for Overlimits

Law enforcement officers from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) have made several recent gross overlimit cases on crappie anglers in the San Joaquin Valley, prompting increased patrols for anglers targeting those fish. Crappie is a sport fish common throughout California and most of North America. The bag limit for crappie is 25 fish per day.

In one case, a wildlife officer contacted three anglers in Madera County in the early morning hours of April 12 as they pulled their boat from a local lake. They were in combined possession of 404 crappie. Subtracting out a legal limit of 25 fish each, they were in possession of a combined overlimit of 329 crappie. The three subjects are charged with a gross overlimit of crappie, possession of more than three times the bag limit and failure to show catch upon the demand of a wildlife officer. If convicted, they each face a possible jail term, fines that will potentially range between $5,000 and $40,000, forfeiture of seized fishing equipment and suspension of their fishing privileges,

In total, wildlife officers issued a total of 10 crappie overlimit citations in the last week for 636 crappie in excess of the bag limit.

“We are pleased to see excellent conditions for crappie fishing right now and many honest anglers are catching a limit,” said CDFW Assistant Chief John Baker, who oversees the Central Enforcement District out of Fresno. “These gross overlimit cases are a prime example of poachers taking advantage of good conditions and depleting our state’s limited resources. This behavior should outrage the honest anglers who abide by the law.”

Anyone who believes they are witness to unlawful poaching or pollution activity is encouraged to call CalTIP, CDFW’s confidential secret witness program, at (888) 334-2258 or send a text to tip411. Both methods allow the public to provide wildlife officers with factual information to assist with investigations. Callers may remain anonymous, if desired, and a reward can result from successful capture and prosecution.

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Media Contacts:
Capt. Danny Stevenson, CDFW Law Enforcement, (559) 967-4511
Capt. Patrick Foy, CDFW Law Enforcement, (916) 651-6692

Ivory Sales Lead to a Conviction in Los Angeles County

ivory figurines
Ivory figurines confiscated in the Los Angeles County case. (CDFW photo)

A Los Angeles County jury has convicted a 48-year-old man on misdemeanor charges of selling elephant ivory. Oleg N. Chakov was found guilty on April 3 in Los Angeles County Superior Court, and sentenced to 10 days in county jail in lieu of a $5,000 fine, three years probation and 30 days of community service. He is also prohibited from possessing ivory and all evidence from the case was forfeited to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW). The penalty was set pursuant to Fish and Game Code, section 2022, which took effect on July 1, 2016.

The investigation began in March 2017, when wildlife officers from CDFW’s Trafficking Unit saw several ivory statues advertised for sale online. Officers emailed the seller and asked to meet to look at and possibly purchase the ivory statues.

Chakov told officers he worked at the Durant City Library on Sunset Boulevard and requested they meet there to conduct the sale. Chakov brought nine ivory statues to the meeting, offering to sell them for $3,000. He ultimately sold two of the statues to the undercover officers for $800.

The nine ivory statues were seized as evidence and sent to the CDFW Wildlife Forensics Lab for additional analysis. The Forensics Lab staff was able to positively identify several of the statues as proboscidean ivory (African elephant, Asian elephant, mammoth or mastodon).

“We would like to thank the Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office for their assistance in this investigation and the subsequent prosecution,” said David Bess, CDFW Deputy Director and Law Enforcement Division Chief. “The penalties assessed by this court should deter further acts of ivory trafficking and prove California’s commitment to halting the demand for ivory which contributes to poaching of elephants in their native range.”

Assembly Bill 96, authored in 2015 by then-Assembly Speaker and current Senate President Pro Tempore Toni Atkins (D-San Diego), made it unlawful to purchase, sell, offer for sale, possess with intent to sell or import with intent to sell ivory or rhinoceros horn, except as specified. A first-time violation of this law is a misdemeanor subject to specified criminal penalties and fines between $1,000 and $40,000, depending upon the value of the item.

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Media Contact:
Lt. Steve Stiehr, CDFW Law Enforcement Division, (916) 217-9206
Capt. Patrick Foy, CDFW Law Enforcement Division, (916) 651-6692

 

Lassen County Man Arrested for Illegal Mass Killing of Raptors

California wildlife officers have uncovered what is likely the largest raptor poaching case in known California history, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) announced.

Wildlife officers assigned to Lassen County received an anonymous tip from someone who reportedly witnessed a man killing a hawk near the town of Standish. The local wildlife officer conducted surveillance, then visited the private property and discovered nine dead raptors, which was enough evidence to obtain a search warrant. He returned on March 11 with additional officers and a CDFW K-9. A search of the 80-acre property led to the discovery of an extraordinary number of raptor carcasses, other dead birds and wildlife and spent rifle casings indicating more than 140 potential state and/or federal violations.

Processing evidence
Processing evidence: Wildlife officers collected over 140 carcasses of mostly raptors, but other birds and mammals as well.

In addition to the original nine birds, they found 126 dead raptors, all in various states of decay. Most of the birds were red-tailed hawks, but at least one dead owl was found, as well as an uncommon migratory ferruginous hawk. Officers also located two dead bobcats, one taxidermied mountain lion and other nongame birds, all suspected to be unlawfully taken.

Property owner Richard Parker, 67, was booked into Lassen County jail on multiple charges including take of birds of prey, take of migratory nongame birds as designated by the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act, take of other nongame birds, and possession of wildlife unlawfully taken. Additional charges may be added as the investigation proceeds.

wildlife officers conducting investigation
Wildlife officers conducting investigation: Most of the dead birds were located at the bottom of roosting trees or manmade objects such as telephone poles.

Staff at CDFW’s Wildlife Investigations Laboratory in Rancho Cordova are working to positively identify the species of all of the birds.

As the top bird predators in the food chain, raptors serve an important role in the ecosystem by controlling rodent and small mammal populations. However, they are also particularly susceptible to environmental stressors such as drought and habitat loss. For these reasons, biologists refer to them as an indicator species.

Standish is located near Honey Lake and the Honey Lake Wildlife Area, with habitat that supports a rich diversity and quantity of wildlife. The sheer number of birds poached on the 80-acre property will undoubtedly affect the raptor population in the immediate area.

“Poaching crimes of this egregious nature against raptors is unprecedented in California,” said David Bess, CDFW Deputy Director and Chief of the Law Enforcement Division. “The local raptor population may take years to recover from these killings.”

Each potential violation is a misdemeanor poaching crime at the state level, with maximum penalties of six months in jail and up to a $5,000 fine per each raptor. An unlawfully taken mountain lion could result in up to a $10,000 penalty. Each potential federal crime could result in additional penalties.

Media Contact:
Capt. Patrick Foy, CDFW Law Enforcement, (916) 651-6692

Commission Suspends License of Sportfishing Charter Boat Operator for Poaching in Southern California Marine Protected Areas

The California Fish and Game Commission (Commission) today ordered a five-year suspension of the license of Pacific Star Sportfishing, Inc., a recreational sportfishing vessel operator. The decision was made following oral arguments heard at the Commission meeting today in Sacramento.

In an undercover operation and subsequent boarding by officers in 2013, California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) wildlife officers observed 18 violations including poaching within California’s marine protected area (MPA) network, exceeding the possession limits of several fish species, using illegal methods to take fish and failing to report accurate counts on logbooks. Based on these violations, CDFW filed an accusation with the Commission against Pacific Star requesting that the Commission suspend this commercial passenger fishing vessel license.

“Illegal take of our marine resources, especially in MPAs, undermines the tireless work of law enforcement, scientists, the public and fishermen in California,” said Commission President Eric Sklar. “The Commission took ample time to review the department’s accusation and we hope this serves as a message that we do not take lightly these sorts of violations and will ensure those who are responsible receive the appropriate penalty.”

The Commission’s decision today follows a two-day hearing in 2017 conducted by an administrative law judge on behalf of the Commission with CDFW and Pacific Star both participating. The judge ultimately proposed that the Commission suspend the license for two years, with only the first 90 days of the suspension taking effect so long as Pacific Star complied with certain terms of probation. The Commission rejected that proposal as inadequate and gave CDFW and Pacific Star each 15 minutes today to argue their positions, resulting in today’s suspension.

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Media Contacts:
Michael Yaun, Commission Legal Counsel, (916) 653-4899
Jordan Traverso, CDFW Communications, (916) 654-9937

Three Abalone Poachers Hit with Heavy Fines, Other Penalties

The Mendocino County District Attorney’s Office has settled three major abalone poaching cases involving Fort Bragg, Sacramento and Bay Area abalone poachers, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) announced.

Two of the settled cases resulted in hefty fines and other penalties for restaurant owners:

  • Steven Yuan Qin Liang, 47, of Fort Bragg pled
    LiangAbaloneCase
    Evidence seized in the Liang case.

    guilty to felony conspiracy involving the purchase and black market sales of sport-caught abalone for personal profit. Liang, owner of the Asian Buffet restaurant in Fort Bragg, was ordered to serve 360 days in the Mendocino County Jail, placed on probation for 36 months and ordered to pay a fine of $15,000. He is prohibited from obtaining a sport or commercial fishing license for life.

  • Bryant Chiu Shiu Lee, 44, of Sacramento, pled guilty to a misdemeanor charge of purchasing abalone for black market resale. Lee, owner of the Sushi Café in Sacramento, was placed on probation for 36 months and ordered to pay a fine of $40,000. He is prohibited from obtaining a sport or commercial fishing license for life.

Liang and Lee were both convicted in late 2017, following a joint investigation by the CDFW Special Operations Unit and Mendocino Coast squad that began in June 2015.

In the third case, the strange circumstances surrounding an emergency rescue led to an investigation and eventual conviction.

  • Justin Joseph Adams, 44, of Alameda, pled guilty to charges of conspiracy and taking abalone for black market sale. He was ordered to serve 210 days in the Mendocino County Jail, was placed on probation for 36 months and was ordered to pay a fine of $15,000. He is also prohibited from obtaining a sport or commercial fishing license for life.
Adams case April 2017
Evidence seized in the Adams case.

In April 2017, wildlife officers received information from the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Department, Elk Volunteer Fire Department and Mendocino Volunteer Fire Department about odd circumstances surrounding a cliff rescue in Elk, Mendocino County. Adams had been dropped off by a friend the day before at the headlands just north of Cuffy’s Cove in Elk. He climbed down a steep cliff to the water’s edge and harvested abalone during low tide, but when the tide returned, his return route was blocked. When he failed to appear at a pre-determined pick-up location, a friend called in a missing persons report. Rescuers found Adams stranded on the side of a steep cliff and extracted him around 2 a.m.

Wildlife officers suspected poaching activity may have factored into Adams’ predicament. The day after the rescue, CDFW Lt. Joel Hendricks and Warden Don Powers donned wetsuits and swam to the location below where Adams was rescued to look for evidence of poaching. In a deep cut under the bluff, directly under the location of Adams’ rescue, they found two bags containing 38 abalone. One of the bags also contained a half-consumed plastic bottle of water. After obtaining a DNA sample from Adams via a search warrant, they sent the sample and the water bottle to the California Department of Justice Forensics Laboratory. The lab matched the DNA evidence from the bottle to Adams.

Trafficking of illegally harvested abalone on the black market continues to pose a significant enforcement problem and further exacerbates the pressure on the abalone population. Black market values will likely increase with the closure of the 2018 sport abalone season. Wildlife officers continue to conduct in-depth investigations and arrest those who continue to poach and commercialize abalone.

“It is immensely important for wildlife officers to work with District Attorneys who understand the importance of prosecuting poaching crimes against the dwindling abalone resource,” said CDFW Deputy Director and Chief of Law Enforcement David Bess. “The Mendocino County District Attorney’s office has an excellent track record in this regard.”

CDFW’s wildlife officers and biologists alike hope to see the return of a recreational abalone harvest as soon as the abalone population rebounds.

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Media Contact:
Capt. Patrick Foy, CDFW Law Enforcement Division, (916) 651-6692