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Old 05-07-2005, 04:31 AM
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Default Sept. 30, 2004 California Department of Fish and Game

DFG Arrests 4, Interviews 11 in North Coast Abalone Poaching
California Department of Fish and Game

Contacts: Troy Swauger, Office of Public Affairs, (916) 768-0564
Carrie Wilson, Marine Region, (831) 238-2044
Debbie Mesloh, San Francisco DA?s Office, (415) 553-1596

A five-month investigation into suspected Northern California abalone poaching by a band of San Francisco divers culminated Thursday with four arrests, the Department of Fish and Game (DFG) announced. A search warrant was served and at least one vehicle that was allegedly used in the illegal take of scores of red abalone was impounded as part of the investigation.
Wardens from DFG?s covert Special Operations Unit (SOU) launched the investigation in May after uncovering the alleged poaching ring. Surveillance by members of the unit eventually linked more than a dozen people from San Francisco, Richmond and Daly City to the ongoing illegal enterprise.
Charges of harvesting abalone for commercial purposes and unlawfully selling abalone taken under sport licenses have been filed with the San Francisco District Attorney?s Environmental Unit, and with the San Mateo County District Attorney?s Office.
California sport fishing regulations allow for the take of three red abalone per day, 24 per year, with a maximum possession of no more than three at any time. Sport fishing for abalone is allowed only north of San Francisco Bay from April 1 through November with July closed.
?Poaching continues to be a major concern to the long-term sustainability of the state?s red abalone population,? said DFG Capt. Tony Warrington. ?With the success of this operation and the arrest of these suspects, DFG is eliminating another threat to this valuable resource.?
Two dozen wardens involved in the operation knocked on the doors of 10 homes early Thursday where, in addition to the four taken into custody, they interviewed 11 people believed connected with the case.
Wardens arrested Li Sheng Chen, 52, when they served a search warrant at his apartment in San Francisco. Investigators believed Chen was the ringleader for the coordinated poaching operation.
Also taken into custody were Wu Qiang Zhang, 40, Nichole Zhang Li, 43, and Betty Ai Hang Guo, 30, all of San Francisco. Zhang and Li were booked into San Francisco County Jail on $10,000 bail. Guo was booked into the San Mateo County Jail.
Each charge of taking abalone for commercial purposes and selling or buying abalone is subject to up to a $40,000 fine and a year in county jail. That is in addition to the potential loss of fishing privileges for life.
The SOU is DFG's undercover law enforcement component. The unit uses wardens on long and short-term assignments to search out and apprehend unlawful commercial poaching operations. Past cases have also involved the unlawful sale of sturgeon and sturgeon parts, abalone, reptiles, and bear parts.
DFG launched the operation after wardens monitoring the northern coast off Mendocino County spotted the divers taking more abalone than the legal limit. Mendocino and Sonoma counties account for 96 percent of the state?s sport abalone activity.
Wardens watched the suspects for several weeks as they traveled between the north coast and the Bay Area where they sold the abalone. Twice, wardens watched while sales of numerous abalones occurred.
Abalone can cost up to $50 each on the black market.
Surveys have shown no significant reproductive events in red abalone in more than a decade. The growth rate of north coast red abalone is extremely slow, taking up to 10 years for abalone to reach legal size.
?Sale of abalone will not be tolerated in San Francisco. We will do everything we can to prosecute the offenders and protect this natural treasure,? said Debbie Mesloh, spokeswoman for the San Francisco District Attorney?s Office.
Red abalone is associated with rocky kelp habitat ranging from Oregon into Baja California. In northern and central California, red abalone is found from the inter-tidal to the shallow sub-tidal depths. The southern California fishery was closed in 1997 due to its near depletion. A successful red abalone sport-only fishery continues to the north of San Francisco County, where scuba has always been prohibited and commercial take was only allowed for a three-year period during World War II.
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