California Sues Poacher for $1 Million

California Sues Poacher for $1 Million

On May 27, the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office, along with California’s Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW), sued Tam Van Tran for unlawfully trapping Dungeness crabs in the North Farallon Islands State Marine Reserve. Within the highly protected Marine Protected Area (MPA), taking any fish is unlawful.

According to the official legal filing, “this is the most egregious case of unlawful crabbing in San Francisco’s history, as well as the largest incident of unlawful commercial crabbing in any MPA in the entire state of California.”

On February 11, 2021, CDFW received a tip that Tran was crabbing in that area and went to investigate. Officials found 92 crab traps marked with tags and buoys and license number L95635, which is associated with the F/V Pacific Mist. Tran is the owner of the vessel, which has been licensed to fish for Dungeness crab since 2016. CDFW officials seized and photographed the traps over several days and released at least 260 Dungeness crabs in the process.

In addition to crabbing in a closed area, Tran also violated California laws by placing traps without a destruction device and proper tags and buoys. For a total of 365 alleged violations, the court is suing Tran for a whopping $915,000. For the 260 Dungeness crabs the court charged him for taking, that evens out to around $3,500 per crab.

“What’s remarkable about this incident is how we learned about it,” said Eric Kord, assistant chief for the Marine Enforcement District with CDFW. “Our officers received an anonymous tip from a commercial fisherman who said he saw another fisherman’s crab traps in the Marine Protected Area. He was concerned that this fisherman’s illegal activities would put other law-abiding fisherman in a bad light. This is a large-scale incident of unlawful take from a Marine Protected Area, and we might not have known about it had another commercial fisherman not reported the illegal activity.”

As a crabber who grossed $60,750 for selling Dungeness crab at the San Francisco port in 2021, that fine is going to take a whole lot of trap-hauling to pay off–if he’s ever allowed to crab again. And hopefully, it will inspire a closer read on local regulations for everyone. When CDFW contacted Tran about the illicit crabbing, he admitted that he had 92 traps in the area but claimed that he didn’t know fishing was prohibited there.

San Francisco has five MPAs, all around the Farallon Islands. These MPAs function to protect the state’s marine ecosystems. Because North Farallon Island is a state marine reserve, it receives extra protections beyond the standard MPAs in the region.

According to California law, “In a state marine reserve, it is unlawful to injure, damage, take, or possess any living, geological, or cultural marine resource, except under a scientific collecting permit issued by the department pursuant to Section 650 or specific authorization from the commission for research, restoration, or monitoring purposes.”

Tran certainly wasn’t collecting evidence. And more, setting traps in these protected areas puts endangered species of whales and turtles at risk of fatal entanglement.

“Protecting the environment is a key part of promoting public safety for our community,” District Attorney Boudin said in a press release. “The State Marine Reserves near the Farallon Islands safeguard a wide variety of significant marine life important to the people of California. Crabbing and fishing in these waters is illegal, and my office will hold violators accountable for the harm they cause to this cherished part of San Francisco for their own financial gain.”

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