Tag Archives: poaching

Poachers Take Advantage of Drought Conditions to Target Juvenile Salmon

California wildlife officers patrolling the Sacramento River recently cited six suspects for unlawfully taking and possessing juvenile salmon, and using the young fish as bait to target sturgeon. All of the suspects initially denied use of salmon as bait, but wildlife officers were able to reel in their lines and show them the dead salmon on their hooks.

The alleged poachers worked during the early morning hours under the cover of darkness and focused their effort on sandbars on the Sacramento River in Yolo and Sacramento counties. The sandbars were recently exposed due to drought conditions. Wildlife officers from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s (CDFW) Delta Bay Enhanced Enforcement Project (DBEEP), Special Operations Unit (SOU) and local squads continue to use the Governor’s drought overtime support to step up patrols in these sensitive areas to protect salmon and sturgeon from poachers.

In the first case, a wildlife officer observed two subjects wading in the Sacramento River and using a large net to capture juvenile salmon near a sandbar created by the low flow conditions. They netted the small salmon for later use as bait to fish for sturgeon. The wildlife officer ultimately determined that the two anglers and one more fisherman used fishing rods baited with the juvenile salmon they’d caught. Tony Saetern, 25, Michael Anglero, 24, and Kao Saeyang, 28, all of Sacramento, were each cited for unlawful use of salmon as bait and unlawful possession of salmon out of season.

A few nights later, wildlife officers observed a suspect using a hand light and dip net to unlawfully capture and keep multiple juvenile salmon in the same area of the Sacramento River. The officers watched as a total of three suspects in the group appeared to use the salmon as bait for fishing. Officers contacted the suspects and found two of them in possession of fishing rods with hooks baited with the salmon. As the officers were conducting the investigation, a sturgeon was hooked on another fishing rod belonging to the group, was landed and released. Officers found the group in possession of a Snapple beverage bottle containing 14 additional juvenile salmon for later use as bait.

Nai Poo Saechao, 36, of Antelope and Lai C Saechao, 27, of Sacramento, were both cited for unlawful use of salmon as bait, possession of salmon out of season and an overlimit of salmon. Vincent Sai Poo Saechao, 23, of Antelope, was cited for unlawful method of take of salmon.

“During this time of year, juvenile salmon are migrating downstream to the Delta and are vulnerable to this type of poaching as they seek shelter from prey fish close to shore,” DBEEP Warden Byron Trunnell explained. “Salmon season is closed on the Sacramento River, and nets are not an authorized method of take for game fish in inland waters.”

The unlawful practice of catching juvenile salmon for bait has long been a concern and is an enforcement priority this time of year. Poaching pressure on salmon is particularly harmful now, given California’s current drought situation. CDFW and numerous other agencies on both the state and federal levels are taking action wherever possible to support the long-term viability of salmon populations of the Sacramento River watershed.

CDFW appreciates legitimate anglers and asks for the public’s help in apprehending those who are taking advantage of our natural resources. Illegal activity can be reported through the CDFW Californians Turn In Poachers and Polluters (CalTIP) line at 888-334-2258, or via email or text (please see www.dfg.ca.gov/enforcement/caltip.aspx for details).

Media Contact:
Capt. Patrick Foy, CDFW Law Enforcement, (916) 508-7095CDFW Wildlife Officer (2)

State, Federal and French Wildlife Officers Work Together to Stop Illegal Import

A San Jose woman has been served with a fine, community service and probation for possession of several taxidermied protected wildlife specimens and attempting to import a taxidermied protected owl from France.

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Dora Martha Jimenez Zepeda, 42, of San Jose pled no contest to one count of violating Fish and Game Code, section 3503.5, unlawful possession of birds of prey, and forfeited several other taxidermied animals that are illegal to possess in California. The plea disposition also resulted in a $3,600 fine to be paid into the Santa Clara County Fish and Wildlife Propagation Fund, 300 hours of community service and three years of probation.

“This is one of the most unusual cases we have seen in a while,” said California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) Assistant Chief Bob Farrell. “The international trafficking of protected species usually falls under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, but since some of these animals were also protected under state law, it was a particularly complicated case. We appreciate the collaboration with our French and federal counterparts, as well as the Santa Clara District Attorney’s office, to bring this investigation to a close.”

In June 2014, CDFW law enforcement officers received a call through the CalTIP (Californians Turn in Poachers and Polluters) line from a wildlife officer at the National de la Chasse et de la Faune Sauvage (the French National Hunting and Wildlife Office). The French officer had been investigating the unlawful sale of a barn owl (tyto alba) to a California buyer through eBay’s French website. The barn owl is a protected species in France.

After several months of investigation, CDFW wildlife officers, along with officers from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), located the suspect at her residence in San Jose.  Inside the one-bedroom apartment, officers found more than 50 stuffed and mounted animals, including a full-bodied African lion. Officers seized three species of hawk, two Western screech owls, one long-eared owl, two barn owls, one egret and one sea turtle, all prohibited species to possess.  She was allowed to keep the other mounts not prohibited by state or federal law.

The suspect stated she purchased most of her taxidermy from eBay and denied having killed any of the wildlife herself.

Nongame migratory birds such as birds of prey are protected under both California law and the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Sea turtles are federally protected under the Endangered Species Act and internationally under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

CalTIP is a confidential secret witness program that encourages the public to provide CDFW with factual information leading to the arrest of poachers and polluters. If you witness a poaching or polluting incident or any fish and wildlife violation, or have information about such a violation, please call 1-888-334-CALTIP (888-334-2258), 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Tipsters can also text anonymous information, including photographs, to the CalTIP program via “tip411” (numerically, 847411). Wildlife officers can respond directly, resulting in an anonymous two-way conversation.

Media Contacts:
Capt. Don Kelly, CDFW Law Enforcement Division, (831) 229-0903
Capt. Patrick Foy, CDFW Law Enforcement Division, (916) 651-6692


Wildlife Officers Rescue Nearly-lifeless Sturgeon, Cite Poaching Suspect


Capt. Patrick Foy, CDFW Law Enforcement Division, (916) 651-6692
Janice Mackey, CDFW Communications, (916) 322-8908

California wildlife officers cited a Sacramento County man on poaching charges last week, prior to successfully resuscitating the fish and returning it to the Sacramento River.

Officers from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) were conducting surveillance on a suspected sturgeon poacher on the river near Clarksburg, when they watched him hook up on what appeared to be a very large fish. As the officers watched, the suspect immediately moved the fish to the bed of his pickup and left the scene.

An additional wildlife officer was called in and conducted a traffic stop. The fish was found to be a white sturgeon, oversized (at 66 inches) and untagged. Suspect Eric Solden, 34, of Hood, was cited accordingly.

CDFW officers quickly measured and photographed the fish for evidence purposes and then transported it back to the river’s edge in an attempt to resuscitate it and release it back to the wild. A group of nearby sturgeon fishermen shot video of the rescue effort while a wildlife officer patiently worked with the nearly dead fish in shallow water, rocking it back and forth to force water over its gills. After about 20 minutes, the fish gained the strength to swim away. The video has been posted on YouTube at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l0QjxpfdVEM&sns=em.

Both white sturgeon (Acipenser transmontanus) and green sturgeon (Acipenser medirostris) are native to California. They are anadromous, meaning they move from the salt and brackish water to freshwater to spawn. Sturgeon can live to be 100 years or older. They reach sexual maturity at around 15 years old. Because the sturgeon life cycle makes them vulnerable to overharvest, fishing for them is highly regulated.

California’s white sturgeon population is stable enough to barely sustain a recreational fishery. They have a special size limit, called a slot limit, which requires anglers to release any fish caught shorter than 40 inches or greater than 60 inches measured from nose to the fork length of the tail. The larger fish are the most important to survival of the species as they are the most productive breeding fish. Sturgeon anglers are limited to three retained sturgeon per year and are issued three tags for each.

Green sturgeon are a federally threatened species and may not be retained.

CDFW appreciates honest sturgeon anglers’ patience with tagging requirements, as it helps differentiate between law-abiding fishermen and poachers. If you witness or have information about a poaching or polluting incident or any fish and wildlife violation, please report it to CalTIP (888 334-2258). The toll-free number is in operation 24 hours a day, seven days a week. You may also report tips via the CalTIP website (www.dfg.ca.gov/enforcement/caltip.aspx) or by sending an anonymous tip via text to 847411 (tip411). (The text should begin with “CALTIP,” followed by a space and the message).

Inyo County Man Arrested, Charged with Poaching Deer

Media Contacts:
Lt. Bill Dailey, CDFW Law Enforcement Division, (661) 203-6380
Lt. Patrick Foy, CDFW Law Enforcement Division, (916) 508-7095

Tracking dog Sieger helped wildlife officers locate a poached trophy deer.

California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) officers arrested a poacher today in Inyo County for allegedly illegally killing a trophy 3×3 deer in the G-3 zone. Joseph Eugene Bragdon, 37, of Bishop was taken into custody without incident at his workplace after a $15,000 arrest warrant was issued by the Inyo County District Attorney’s Office.

“We are grateful to the Inyo County DA’s Office for recognizing the importance of resource protection and that wildlife poaching is a serious crime,” said Lt. Bill Dailey of CDFW’s Law Enforcement Division. “Ethical hunters prize the G-3 tag for the incredible landscape and quantity of large deer. With only 35 tags issued every year, hunters can apply for years and never draw this zone.”

CDFW wildlife officers received a tip, through the CalTIP hotline, that on Nov. 1 Bragdon took his juvenile son to Division Creek in the trophy G-3 hunting zone and killed a large mule deer buck using a D-7 deer zone tag. With the assistance of the investigating warden’s tracking dog, Sieger, they located a dead deer with only the antlers and part of the edible meat removed. Most of the animal was left to waste.

Poaching a deer, cutting the head off and wasting edible meat is illegal and an egregious violation of ethical hunting standards. Wildlife officers took DNA samples and seized ballistic evidence.

The G-3 deer season runs only from Dec. 6-21. This area is considered a trophy deer hunt when high country mule deer bucks enter the area to escape the high country winter storms.

In November 2012, Bragdon was convicted of two misdemeanor hunting violations in Nevada, including hunting big game in a closed season and hunting big game without a tag. He was fined and had demerit points added to his Nevada hunting license.

Bragdon faces possible charges for several violations of the Fish and Game Code, including taking a deer without a license, tag or permit, failure to fill out tags, waste of game, failure to have a tag in possession and possession of less than an ounce of marijuana. If convicted, Bragdon could face revocation of his hunting license, fines, probation and/or jail time.

CalTIP (Californians Turn In Poachers and Polluters) is a confidential secret witness program that encourages the public to provide CDFW with factual information leading to the arrest of poachers and polluters. Ethical hunters and anglers are the most common contributors to the CalTIP hotline. The toll-free hotline number is (888) 334-2258.

Tracking dog Sieger is a candidate for the next cycle of certification training for CDFW’s exceptional team of Warden K-9s.

Yolo County Jury Convicts Sturgeon Poachers

A Yolo County jury convicted a repeat sturgeon poacher and his accomplice of multiple felonies and poaching charges stemming from a 2010 poaching investigation. They were convicted June 19, with sentencing scheduled for Aug. 1.

In Feb. 2010, Nikolay Krasnodemskiy, 41, of North Highlands, and his partner Petr Dyachishin, 54, of Citrus Heights, were observed catching and retaining oversized sturgeon and processing their eggs into caviar. An extensive investigation conducted by California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) officers from the Delta Bay Enhanced Enforcement Project and the Special Operations Unit proved the two were selling the sturgeon and their eggs on the black market for personal profit. Sale of sturgeon, their parts, or any fish caught with a recreational fishing license is illegal.

Krasnodemskiy and Dyachishin were each convicted of two felonies related to conspiracy, in addition to multiple counts of commercial sales of sturgeon, possession of oversized sturgeon, failure to tag sturgeon and possession of sturgeon over the annual limit.

California’s sturgeon population is on the edge of sustaining a recreational fishery. As a result, sturgeon anglers must adhere to strict size, limit and tagging requirements to help wildlife officers distinguish between honest anglers and poachers, and to help CDFW biologists maintain adequate scientific data on the fishery and protect the larger breeding adults.

“Taking these poachers out of business will help ensure a healthy sturgeon population into the future,” said CDFW Captain David Bess, who participated in the investigation.

Nikolay Krasnodemskiy was the subject of multiple sturgeon poaching investigations including Operation Delta Beluga II in 2005, which culminated in a conviction and revocation of his fishing license. Soon after his fishing license was reinstated in 2009, he became the subject of another sturgeon poaching investigation. By Feb. 2010, wildlife officers had observed him continue his sturgeon poaching activities, including commercial sales.

Wildlife officers will seek a permanent revocation of Krasnodemskiy’s fishing license and forfeiture of all fishing gear seized during the investigation.

CDFW appreciates legitimate sturgeon anglers for their patience with sturgeon tagging and recordkeeping requirements, which were integral to making the case as well as the long-term management of the sturgeon fishery. CDFW also thanks the Yolo County District Attorney’s Office for their dedication and successful prosecution of the case.

Media Contact:
Lt. Patrick Foy, CDFW Law Enforcement, (916) 508-7095

Sacramento Man Pleads Guilty to Commercial Bobcat Poaching

A Sacramento County man recently pled guilty to multiple criminal charges and was fined for unlawfully trapping dozens of bobcat and fox for commercial purposes in northern California.

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Tracy Lee Shultz, 57, from Courtland was fined $5,000 and forfeited 60 poached bobcat and fox pelts worth almost $15,000 on the commercial market. Schultz ultimately pled guilty to several violations of the Fish and Game Code, including taking bobcat outside of the established season, unlawful capture and confinement of a live mammal, possession of unlawfully taken pelts, knowingly filing false information to obtain bobcat tags and unlawfully taking wildlife for profit or personal gain. He is also prohibited from hunting, fishing, trapping or accompanying anyone on such a trip during his one-year probation.

In November 2012, Lassen County CDFW Warden Nick Buckler received an anonymous tip from a hunter that commercial bobcat traps were being set before the season opened. Warden Buckler started his investigation, during which he spent nearly every day and night of the 70-day season living out in the sage, bitterbrush, and rim-rock of remote Lassen County observing and documenting the trapper.

“Sometimes the smallest bit of information can lead to a large scale investigation,” said Buckler. “I feel lucky to live and work in a county that cares so much about its fish, wildlife and habitats. The illegal commercialization of wildlife is second only to the illegal trade in drugs and guns for worldwide revenue. There will always be people willing to break laws and exploit wildlife to make money.”

Warden Buckler spent three months observing Schultz, documenting his movements, and locating and monitoring his traps in order to obtain sufficient evidence. At one point during the season, Schultz returned to his Sacramento County home for a week leaving a spotted skunk trapped in freezing temperatures. After Sacramento County game wardens relayed that Schultz remained at home for several days, Warden Buckler released the trapped animal unharmed.

On Jan. 31, 2013, two teams of wildlife officers served search warrants on locations in Sacramento and Modoc counties. The two teams seized a large volume of evidence from Schultz, including his ATV, trailer, trapping journal, trapping, skinning and storage equipment, nearly 50 large commercial live traps, and 60 illegally taken bobcat and gray fox pelts.

Trapping bobcat for commercial purposes is legal in California with a season that starts on Nov. 24 of each year. Trappers licensed through CDFW are required to check their traps and remove all captured animals at least once daily. Schultz had about 50 tagged live traps set throughout more than 900 square miles of remote Lassen and Modoc counties. This extensive trapping area made it impossible for Shultz to check each trap daily, and allowed him to trap more area, spend less gas and cheat other trappers who followed the law.

Pursuant to state law, all the furs were sold to a licensed fur dealer and the $14,835 check was held in an account while the case was underway. As part of the conviction, the Lassen County Superior Court judge ordered the money paid to the Lassen County Fish and Game Commission, where it will be used to promote and support lawful hunting and fishing, as well as fund wildlife habitat improvement and restoration in the county.

Many times cases such as this could not be made without the assistance of sportsmen and sportswomen who help wildlife officers by reporting poaching and pollution. It often takes the help of concerned citizens in conjunction with the county district attorney’s office to reach successful outcomes.

“Now more than ever wardens need the assistance of the public to protect our valuable natural resources,” Buckler said. “Hunters, anglers, trappers and citizens can be our eyes and ears on the ground. License plates, descriptions and accurate locations are the best information the public can provide.”

CDFW officers patrol more than 220,000 square miles of ocean and 159,000 square miles of land in California, while the number of wardens has increased in the last few years, California still has the lowest number of wildlife officers per capita in the United States.

If you witness a wildlife crime, you are encouraged to call the 24-hour toll free CalTIP hotline at (888) 334-2258. All calls can be kept anonymous.

Media Contact:
Nick Buckler, CDFW Law Enforcement, (530) 440-6381
Andrew Hughan, CDFW Communications, (916) 322-8944

Two Santa Barbara County Men Arrested for Felony Fish Theft

Two commercial fishermen were arrested by California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) officers early Sunday morning in Santa Barbara Harbor on felony charges of conspiracy and grand theft.

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John Wilson, 53, of Santa Ynez and Kai Griffin, 23, of Buellton, both licensed commercial fishermen, are being charged with stealing live rock crabs from fellow commercial fishermen and stealing from commercial fish markets at the commercial dock in Santa Barbara Harbor. Wildlife officers allege that the pair then sold the crabs, along with several other illegally landed species, at the Hollywood Farmer’s Market.

“Thanks to some good tips from the fishing community and good, solid police work, we were able to catch the suspects and stop these illegal sales,” said CDFW Lt. Wes Boyle

Wardens had received reports from commercial fishermen and two Santa Barbara fish markets regarding stolen rock crabs and other assorted species. The thefts were said to be occurring in the early morning hours. During the two-month-long investigation, the subjects were observed stealing live rock crabs from receivers in Santa Barbara Harbor and then selling them at the Farmer’s Market. The investigation also showed that the subjects were selling sea urchins, Kellet’s whelks (out of season), live rock crabs and clawed rock crabs that were illegally landed.

The suspects were booked into Santa Barbara County Jail, and charges will be filed with the county District Attorney.

Media Contacts:     
Capt. Mike Stefanak, CDFW Law Enforcement, (805) 746-7590
Andrew Hughan, CDFW Communications, (916) 322-8944


Sacramento Family Faces Felony Charges for Selling Sport Caught Fish

California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) officers arrested a Sacramento family of three early Saturday morning for illegally selling sport-caught fish from the Delta.

Luan Van Dao, 51, his wife Mung Thi Bui, 49, and their son Tuan Anh Dao, 29 were arrested by CDFW officers after more than a month of watching the family fish daily in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and hide their fish in a hidden compartment aboard their boat. The suspects also appeared to have an established network of buyers to whom they would sell fish on a regular basis. In California, commercial fishermen are permitted to sell their catch directly to restaurants, but private or sport-fishing catch is illegal to resell.

Luan Van Dao and Mung Thi Bui were convicted of poaching fish in 2006. During the current investigation Tuan Anh Dao was cited for possession of an oversized sturgeon on Nov. 16.

“Convicted poachers who continue to sell California’s fish and wildlife for personal profit are a wildlife officer’s highest priority,” said CDFW Law Enforcement Division Captain Rudy Arruda. “These poachers are taking away from the legal and legitimate anglers.”

All three suspects face charges of felony conspiracy and illegal sale of sport-caught fish. If convicted the suspects could face jail time, significant fines, loss of their fishing licenses and other penalties. ­

Charges will be filed with the Yolo County District Attorney when the investigation is complete.

Media Advisory: Photos and video can be downloaded at ftp://ftp.dfg.ca.gov/OCEO/ 

Media Contact:        
Lt. Patrick Foy, CDFW Law Enforcement, (916) 508-7095

Packaged fish for sale

Bear Poachers Receive Stiff Sentences in El Dorado Court

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

Two northern California men have been sentenced to fines and jail time for unlawfully killing bears and selling their gall bladders and other parts for profit. Peter George Vitali, 56, of Pioneer and Arthur Martin Blake, 59, of River Pines, pleaded no contest to misdemeanor charges of illegally taking wildlife for profit in an El Dorado County courtroom last month.

The court ordered Vitali to pay a $12,500 fine and Blake to pay a $5,000 fine. Both men will be required to serve 30 days in jail and were sentenced to an additional 36 month probationary period.

“This case is an example of the challenges our officers face,” said California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) Lt. Stacey LaFave. “Heavy fines and jail time send a strong message to poachers who unlawfully take and profit from California’s natural resources.”

Vitali and Blake were arrested by CDFW wildlife officers in April 2013, after they were found to be in possession of 20 large bear claws and three bear gall bladders in the El Dorado National Forest.

Evidence developed during the investigation suggested the suspects recently killed three bears, likely a sow and two cubs. The claws, liver and gall bladder had been removed from the sow and only the liver and gall bladder were removed from the younger two bears.

California Fish and Game laws forbid the sale, purchase or possession for sale of any bear part, including claws and gall bladders. The bile contained inside bear gall bladders is believed by some to have medicinal properties and is sold on the black market. Under California law, possession of more than one bear gall bladder is prima facie evidence that the bear gall bladders are possessed for sale.

Fish and Wildlife Officers File Charges Against Suspected Bear Poachers in Nevada County

Following a five month investigation, California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) officers have formally asked the Nevada County District Attorney’s Office to file felony and misdemeanor charges against suspected bear poachers Jason Scott Wilkison, 43, of Grass Valley and Chris Art Nunley, 54, of North San Juan for crimes related to alleged bear poaching in April 2013.

Both men have been charged with the unlawful possession of bear. Additional charges of unlawfully killing a bear were filed against Wilkison. Both individuals also face felony charges involving the unlawful possession of firearms and ammunition.

Lead investigator, Warden Jerry Karnow, launched the investigation when he received reports of a bear that had been unlawfully shot after being lured with bait to a residence located near Grizzly Flats in Nevada County. Wildlife officers, assisted by Nevada County Sheriff’s deputies, served a series of search warrants where bear remains were found in a shallow grave near Wilkison’s residence. Additional bear remains were located at Nunley’s residence.

The CDFW Forensic Laboratory was involved in an analysis of the blood and bear remains, which CDFW believes will support the case. The recovery of firearms, ammunition and evidence throughout the investigation indicate Wilkison and Nunley, who are convicted felons, unlawfully possessed firearms and ammunition.

Media Contact:
Mark Michilizzi, CDFW Enforcement, (916) 651-2084
Patrick Foy, CDFW Law Enforcement, (916) 651-6692