Tag Archives: poaching

Central Valley Fish Trafficking Ring Sentenced Following CDFW Bust

Three Fresno men face jail time and fines after being caught poaching and unlawfully trafficking sport-caught fish, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) announced.

Kue Her, 36, Leepo Her, 33, and Michael Vang, 31, all of Fresno, all pled guilty to charges of illegal poaching of wildlife for profit. Kue Her was sentenced to 52 days in county jail and four years probation, with a court-ordered lifetime fishing license revocation. Leepo Her was sentenced to serve nine days in county jail, four years probation and a $1,050 fine, with a court-ordered lifetime fishing license revocation.

Vang was sentenced to one day in county jail, six hours community service, four years probation and a $1,050 fine, with a court-ordered lifetime fishing license revocation.  

Over the course of a year, CDFW wildlife officers made contact with the three men on multiple occasions as they were fishing throughout California’s Central Valley. The men were frequently found in violation of various laws, including possession of gross overlimits and retention of undersized striped bass. The egregious nature of their poaching activities led wildlife officers to suspect they might be selling fish on the black market.

Wildlife officers analyzed the suspects’ citation history and began a focused investigation into their activities. The investigation uncovered an abundance of evidence that the men had made thousands of dollars through the illegal sale of wild-caught striped bass and other local fish species. The investigation culminated in multiple search warrants served in December 2016, where wildlife officers located live crappie and bluegill in an aquarium, frozen striped bass, marijuana and evidence of a marijuana cultivation and sales, and methamphetamine and evidence of methamphetamine sales.

“The cases are a result of wildlife officers’ recognition of each independent poaching offense for the egregious offenses they were as a whole,” said Assistant Chief John Baker, Central Enforcement District, Fresno. “From there it was good old-fashioned investigative work.”

The Fresno County District Attorney’s Office and Deputy District Attorneys Sabrina Ashjian and Adam Kook prosecuted the case. Ashjian displayed particular vigilance, perseverance and tenacity in her handling of this case. These efforts, along with multitudes of other environmental and poaching prosecutions, contributed to her selection as the 2016 Wildlife Prosecutor of the Year by the California Fish and Game Commission.

Anyone with information about unlawful fishing, hunting or pollution is encouraged to contact CalTIP, CDFW’s confidential secret witness program that encourages the public to provide wildlife officers with factual information leading to the arrest of poachers and polluters. The CalTIP number, (888) 334-2258, is printed on the back of every hunting and fishing license. Tips can also be relayed by text to 847411 (tip411). Text messages allow for a two-way conversation with wildlife officers, while preserving the anonymity of the tipster. Texts should begin with the word “CALTIP,” followed by a space and the message. There is also an app for smartphones that works similarly. For more information on the program and the CalTIP app, please visit www.wildlife.ca.gov/enforcement/caltip.

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Media Contacts:
Lt. Doug Barnhart, CDFW Law Enforcement Division, (559) 685-5456

Lt. Chris Stoots, CDFW Law Enforcement Division, (916) 651-9982

Poachers Fined for Illegally Taking Abalone in Southern California

Two Southern California men have been convicted and fined for abalone poaching and other resource crimes, stemming from a September 2015 California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) enforcement case.

CDFW wildlife officers assigned to the patrol boat Thresher discovered the two men poaching abalone at Catalina Island. The Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office subsequently prosecuted both individuals.

Hee Won Chai, 75, of Los Angeles was charged with taking and possessing six pink abalone. Chai pleaded no contest to all six poaching counts. He was ordered by the court to pay $61,626 in fines and penalties, and $1,000 to the CDFW Preservation Fund. Additionally all of his SCUBA equipment was forfeited by the court and his fishing privileges permanently revoked.

Thresher1.jpg
Warden Rob Rojas and Warden Jon Holemo work together to recover a game bag the suspected poachers attempted to discard.

Jin Chai Jeong, 58, of Garden Grove was charged with taking and possessing two pink abalone, three green abalone and four spiny lobsters out of season, as well as attempting to destroy evidence. Jeong pleaded no contest to all of the abalone and lobster charges. He was also ordered by the court to pay $61,626 in fines and penalties and $1,000 to the CDFW Preservation Fund, and his SCUBA gear was forfeited by the court and his fishing privileges permanently revoked.

“An extraordinary amount of time and effort is invested in helping the Southern California abalone populations rebound, including the sacrifice of honest abalone harvesters who cannot currently fish for abalone south of San Francisco,” said CDFW Law Enforcement Asst. Chief Mike Stefanak. “Years ago, abalone poaching laws were significantly strengthened as part of the overall recovery plan to protect California’s abalone populations, but even so, we’ve seen an increase in poaching crimes. Once we find the offenders, we rely on the diligence of the District Attorneys’ offices and the courts to ensure that justice is served. Successful prosecutions such as these will hopefully serve as a deterrent for anyone considering committing these crimes against the environment.”

All of California’s abalone species are struggling, including two that are federally listed as endangered. Disease, predation, slow reproduction and poaching have necessitated a moratorium on abalone harvest south of San Francisco Bay since 1997. Red abalone populations north of San Francisco are the only populations stable enough to support very limited recreational harvest.

Anyone who believes they are witness to unlawful hunting, fishing or pollution 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. Rebecca Hartman, CDFW Law Enforcement, (310) 678-4864
Andrew Hughan, CDFW Communications, (916) 201-2958

CDFW Busts Suspected Sturgeon Poachers; Sacramento County District Attorney Files Charges

Six Sacramento residents have been charged with multiple Fish and Game Code violations after California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) officers concluded a multi-week investigation of a sturgeon poaching operation.

The Sacramento County District Attorney’s Office will pursue a case against Sacramento residents Mikhail Tverdokhlebov, 54; Aleksandr Postnov, 48; Sang Saephan, 29; Narong Srikham, 35; Mike Keopraseut, 46; and Roongroji Sritula, 48. The six men face charges including conspiracy to unlawfully take sturgeon; take and possession of sturgeon for commercial purposes; unlawful possession of sturgeon; possession of untagged and oversize sturgeon (the maximum size is 60”); and failure to properly return/report sturgeon fishing cards.

Extensive evidence of illegal activities was uncovered by wildlife officers as they served search warrants at multiple locations where the suspected members of the group ran their poaching operation.

At one location officers found an oversized, untagged sturgeon that was barely alive and lay flopping on the floor of the garage. The fish could not be saved. Officers also found more than 20 jars of caviar (processed sturgeon roe or fish eggs), some labeled with prices; weights and sturgeon meat labeled with prices; and fish processing equipment including scales and canning equipment. Officers seized fishing rods and tackle along with various CDFW licenses and tags, and other tools and evidence of illegal poaching activities.

If convicted, the six suspects could face several thousand dollars in fines and penalties, incarceration, forfeiture of assets and equipment and revocation of fishing privileges.

Two types of sturgeon, white and green, are native to the anadromous waterways of California. White sturgeon, which was taken in this case, is highly sought after for its meat and roe. This creates a commercial black market that leads to rampant poaching of the species. CDFW spends significant resources on equipment and personnel hours to combat sturgeon poaching and protect this iconic species of California’s Central Valley.

“Illegal trafficking of wildlife is a multi-million dollar black market industry often linked to criminal organizations,” said David Bess, Chief of CDFW’s Law Enforcement Division. “Wildlife trafficking threatens the stability of species, the economy and public safety, not only in California, but also globally.”

Anyone with information about unlawful fishing, hunting, or pollution is encouraged to contact CDFW CalTIP, a confidential secret witness program that encourages the public to provide wildlife officers with factual information leading to the arrest of poachers and polluters. The CalTIP number, (888) 334-2258, is printed on the back of every hunting and fishing license. Tips can also be relayed by text to tip411, which allows the public to text message an anonymous tip to wildlife officers and lets the officers respond back creating an anonymous two-way conversation. Anyone with a cell phone may send an anonymous tip to CDFW by texting “CALTIP”, followed by a space and the message, to 847411 (tip411). There is also an app for smartphones that works similarly. For more information on the program and how to download the new CalTIP app, please visit www.wildlife.ca.gov/enforcement/caltip.

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Media Contact:
Lt. Chris Stoots, CDFW Law Enforcement, (530) 523-6720

CDFW Seeking Tips After Finding Desert Bighorn Skull

California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) officers are looking for any information the public may have regarding an abandoned skull of a mature male desert bighorn sheep found last May in Alameda County.

The skull was found near Newpark Mall in Newark, in an area with very limited pedestrian traffic. It was in good condition with some flesh and hair still attached to the skull, and it appeared as though someone attempted to conceal it. Desert bighorn sheep are native to California, but are found primarily in the southeastern mountainous areas. They do not naturally occur anywhere near the area where the skull was found.

Lawful hunting of bighorn sheep occurs annually in California, but is heavily regulated with very limited opportunities. In 2015, only 11 bighorn sheep hunting tags were issued by CDFW. Wildlife officers are confident the skull was not legally harvested.

Anyone with information about the skull is encouraged to call CalTIP, CDFW’s confidential secret witness program, at (888) 334-2258 or send a text to tip411. Both options allow the public to provide wildlife officers with factual information to assist in this investigation.

For more information on the CalTIP program or to download the CalTIP app, please visit www.wildlife.ca.gov/enforcement/caltip.

Media Contact:
Lt. Chris Stoots, CDFW Law Enforcement Division, (530) 523-6720
Andrew Hughan, CDFW Communications, (916) 322-8944

The Future of Wildlife Is In Our Hands

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) recognizes World Wildlife Day, declared by the United Nations (UN). On March 3, 2013 the UN General Assembly signed the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

“Poaching persists today across the globe and right here in California,” Chief of CDFW Law Enforcement Division David Bess said. “Wildlife officers dedicate their lives to stopping poachers – in particular, those who illegally sell wildlife and their parts for personal profit.”

Illegal commercialization of wildlife is a multi-million dollar industry right here in California, and is valued at hundreds of millions worldwide. The illegal black market trafficking of wildlife could be eliminated if people simply refused to purchase wildlife or wildlife parts.

California’s wildlife officers routinely work with our federal counterparts at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to prevent people from smuggling wildlife parts into California. Even with combined forces, we can only stop a fraction of the illegal poaching contraband that enters the state.

Many species of wildlife around the world face extinction because of people who capture them for the illegal pet trade or kill them for their body parts. According to a report released by the Secretariat of CITES, more than 20,000 African elephants were poached across the continent in 2013. The ivory trade has been illegal for years, yet poachers continue to make money selling it to people who carve it into art and trinkets, then sell it to collectors and others around the world.

“We celebrate World Wildlife Day to raise awareness of the world’s wild animals and plants, and their importance in every ecosystem,” CDFW Director Charlton H. Bonham said. “Our department’s employees are passionate about the work we do as the state wildlife trustee agency and are committed to our mission to manage California’s native wildlife.”

CDFW joins the United Nations, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and many other individuals and organizations asking the public to help protect the world’s wildlife by reporting crimes, including illegal trade in wildlife and their body parts. Phone Californians Turn In Poachers and Polluters (CalTIP) at 888-334-2258 or send a text to “CALTIP”, followed by a space and the message: to 847411 (tip411).

Alternatively, you can download the free CALTIP smartphone App, which operates similarly to tip411 by creating an anonymous two-way conversation to report wildlife and pollution violations to wildlife officers. The CALTIP App can be downloaded, free, via the Google Play Store and iTunes App Store.

More information can be found on the CDFW website:
Elephant Ivory, sale of in California (PDF)
Elephant Ivory, state and federal laws regarding (PDF)
Restricted Species – Penal Code Section 653(o) (PDF)

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Media Contacts:
Chris Stoots, Law Enforcement Division, (916) 651-9982
Dana Michaels, CDFW Communications, (916) 322-2420