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By DON THOMPSON, Associated Press Writer
Friday, December 8, 2006 03 47 PM

California game wardens arrested 12 people Friday for allegedly poaching striped bass, a widespread activity that officers said is contributing to an historic decline in the popular sport fish in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.
"These guys are hammering this population when it's at its weakest," said Pat Foy, a spokesman for the California Department of Fish and Game. "This is the tip of a very large iceberg. When you have this many people doing this every day, you're going to see major depletion of the fish population."
There are fewer bass in the delta now than at any time since the department began keeping records 47 years ago, Foy said.
The fishermen arrested Friday had proper recreational licenses, but were ignoring size and catch limits and then illegally selling as many bass and other species as they could, wardens alleged.
The 12 are among perhaps hundreds of fishermen doing the same thing, Warden Steve Stiehr said as officers piled dozens of bags of frozen fish in the driveway of the south Sacramento home of two of the arrested fishermen.
Ten fishermen and two employees of a south Sacramento supermarket were arrested on felony conspiracy warrants alleging they trafficked in the bass.
Wardens initially targeted the poaching of endangered sturgeon when they began their investigation 2 1/2 months ago.
But they soon discovered the bass poaching "was so blatant and the places they were selling them were so obvious that we decided to put a damper on it," Foy said. "People are setting up tailgate fish markets" to sell the illegal catch.
Undercover wardens videotaped one fisherman selling at least $380 worth of fish in one day from the back of a truck, for as much as $2.50 a pound.
California has about 2,000 licensed fish markets, too many of which also buy fish on the black market, said Lt. Robert Farrell, who heads marine investigations for the Fish and Game Department.
"It appears there's a significant amount of money changing hands here," Farrell said.
Among those arrested Friday were store employees Thuan Nguyen, 29, and Chichi Peng, 25, on allegations that they bought the bass on behalf of south Sacramento's SF Supermarket, where it sold for $6 a pound. Store manager Mike Nguyen declined comment.
The fishermen arrested Friday, all from Sacramento or neighboring Elk Grove, included three married couples.
Ly Van Nguyen, 49, and his wife, Cuc Thi Nguyen, 48, live in a pleasant subdivision, their home trimmed in Christmas lights. Their small fluffy blonde dog yapped at the sudden invasion of game wardens at dawn Friday.
Wardens confiscating the couple's fishing boat pointed out a secret compartment cut into a floatation chamber. It was there that the couple would hide the illegal catch, said Warden Steve Stiehr.
Both declined comment as they were led away in handcuffs.
Wardens raiding another house nearby found a different surprise, said Foy: Growing marijuana and two suspects hiding in a locked closet in a separate portion of the home.
Kiem Van Nguyen, 50, and his wife, Luyen Thi Nguyen, 45, were arrested on bass poaching charges. Truong Nguyen, 24, was held on suspicion of possession for sale of marijuana, and Phuong Nguyen, 25, was held on allegations of possessing brass knuckles and dangerous drugs.
The third couple was Luan Van Dao, 44, and his wife, Mung Thi Bui, 42. Also arrested were Tuan Anh Dao, 22; Tung Van Nguyen, 80; Dong Van Doan, 66; and his son, Hop V. Doan, 29.
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