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Diver convicted of poaching lobsters in marine reserve
by Dan Bacher
Sunday May 13th, 2012 2:27 AM
While a poacher was fined over $20,000 and sentenced to a week in jail for poaching 47 lobsters inside a "marine protected area," the state and federal governments are allowed to kill tens of millions of fish every year with impunity in order to export massive amounts of Delta water to wealthy corporate agribusiness interests on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley and southern California water agencies. There is no "Wild Justice" for the millions of Sacramento splittail, striped bass, threadfin shad, Central Valley salmon and other species massacred in the state and federal Delta pumps every year.

Photo of lobster courtesy of Department of Fish and Game.
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Lobster poacher convicted as Delta pumps kill millions of fish

by Dan Bacher

An Orange County Judge fined a Riverside County man over $20,000 and sentenced him to a week in jail for poaching lobsters inside a "marine protected area" (MPA) created under Arnold Schwarzenegger's controversial Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative.

"This is the first resource crime conviction since the MPAs off the Southern California coast went into effect on Jan. 1, 2012," according to a May 8 news release from the California Department of Fish and Game touting the poacher's conviction.

This is the same agency that recently released a report documenting the "salvage" of tens of millions of fish including 42 species in the state and federal water export pumping facilities in the South Delta.

Marbel A. Para, 30, of Romoland pled guilty in Orange County Court on May 4 for violating Fish and Game Code 12013, which stipulates a minimum $5,000 fine for anyone who takes or posses more than three times the daily bag limit of lobsters.

“This diver intentionally took a huge overlimit of lobster with no regard for the current laws,” said DFG Assistant Chief Paul Hamdorf. “He didn’t follow any fish and game laws, including the take restrictions within an MPA.”

After midnight on Jan. 15, DFG wardens found Para and a companion with 47 California spiny lobsters in their possession, according to the DFG. In addition to illegally taking the lobsters from an MPA, the divers were well over the legal possession limit of seven lobsters per diver, and all but five of the lobsters were undersize. Para claimed that all the lobsters were his and his companion was not cited.

“This was a big case, but unfortunately it wasn’t the biggest even in the last 12 months. Any time you have something that has significant monetary value, there will be a small group that will exploit it, regardless of what the law says,” said Hamdorf.

"DFG has been working closely with the Orange County District Attorney’s Office to combat resource crimes in the county. Para was ultimately sentenced to three years probation, seven days in OrangeCounty jail and a $5,000 fine for the DFG violation," Hamdorf noted.

Additional fees and penalties pushed the total fines to more than $20,000. He also had to forfeit all his SCUBA equipment and was given a “stay away” order from the Laguna Beach State Marine Reserve.

The DFG claimed, "The MPAs were created through the Marine Life Protection Act in order to simplify and strengthen existing marine reserves and fishing regulations to allow recovery of fish populations that have been in severe decline."

It is important to note that Para would have been cited for violating bag and size limits for lobsters even if the "marine reserve" hadn't been in place.

Wardens Association opposed new reserves without enforcement funding

Ironically, the rank and file wardens who have to enforce the new "marine protected areas" have consistently opposed the creation of any new reserves including those created on the South Coast until funds are found to effectively enforce them.

In a superb opinion piece in the Sacramento Bee on January 31, 2010, Jerry Karnow, Legislative Liason for the California Fish and Game Wardens Association, criticized the MLPA process for proceeding forward at a time when California has the "lowest ratio of wardens to population of any state or province in North America (http://www.sacbee.com/opinion/story/2500939.html).

"It is impossible for the warden force to effectively enforce existing regulations, much less new regulations that the Fish and Game Commission approves over our objections," says Karnow. "Many of the regulations approved by the commission will not protect the natural resources of California. They will serve only one purpose; they will stretch the warden force ever thinner, which will eventually result in another warden's on-duty injury or death."

Of course, the DFG release failed to mention that the MLPA Initiative that created the Laguna Beach State Marine Reserve was privately funded by the shadowy Resources Legacy Fund Foundation, an organization that has also funded Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) reports promoting the construction of a peripheral canal or tunnel. The peripheral canal's construction will hasten the extinction of Central Valley winter run chinook salmon, Delta smelt, longfin smelt and other fish species.

No 'Wild Justice' for millions of fish killed at Delta pumps

While poaching lobsters is inexcusable and should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law, it is ironic that the same Department that proudly proclaims its successful prosecution of a poacher in a news release has done nothing to stop the massacre of millions of millions of fish, including Sacramento splittail, chinook salmon, steelhead and other species, in the State Water Project and federal Central Valley Project pumping facilities in the South Delta over the past few decades.

A total of 11,817,051 fish of all species were "salvaged" in the state and federal pumps in 2011, a record year for water exports, according to a DFG report. The report appeared in the Interagency Ecological Program for the San Francisco Estuary Newsletter, Fall/Winter 2012 edition. (http://www.water.ca.gov/iep/newsletters/2012/IEPNewsletter_FinalWINTER2012.pdf http://www.water.ca.gov)

The splittail salvage was 7,660,024 in the federal facilities and 1,326,065 in the state facilities, a total of 8,986,089 fish, nearly 9 million splittail and a new salvage record for the species. The fish, a native member of the minnow family found only in the Central Valley, was formerly listed as "threatened" under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), but is no longer listed.

"Splittail were the most salvaged species at both facilities," the report said. "Threadfin shad (591,111) and American shad (100,233) were the 2nd and 3rd most salvaged fish at TFCF. American shad (558,731) and striped bass (507,619) were the 2nd and 3rd most-salvaged fish at SDFPF.

The total chinook salmon salvage in the state facilities was 18,830 and the federal facilities was 18,135, a total of 36,965 fish. While the report says that is "relatively few" salmon, fish advocates note that this is still a lot of wild spring run and fall run salmon.

However, salvage numbers are only the "tip of the iceberg" of the total fish lost in the pumping facilities.

“Salvage numbers drastically underestimate the actual impact,” according to a Bay Institute report. “Although the exact numbers are uncertain, it is clear that tens of millions of fish are killed each year, and only a small fraction of this is reflected in the salvage numbers that are reported.” You can download the Bay Institute’s report, Collateral Damage, by going to: http://bay.org/publications/collateral-damage).

One study of “pre-screen loss” estimated that as many as 19 of every 20 fish perished before being counted (Castillo, 2010).

So while a poacher was fined over $20,000 and sentenced to a week in jail for poaching 47 lobsters inside a "marine protected area," the state and federal governments are allowed to kill tens of millions of fish every year with impunity in order to export massive amounts of Delta water to wealthy corporate agribusiness interests on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley and southern California water agencies.

The DFG, rather than protecting the largest and most significant estuary on the West Coast and doing its job, has been a willing party to the destruction of an ecosystem and fish populations. The state and federal governments kill more fish in the Delta pumping facilities every year than all of the poachers in the state combined. State and federal officials who have increased water exports and increased fish kills in recent years are the worst poachers in all of California, yet they go unpunished because they are the servants of Stewart Resnick, Westlands Water District and the Metropolitan Water District.

This is similar to the case of where a bank robber gets prosecuted to the full extent of the law while Wall Street banksters who have ripped off billions of dollars and destroyed millions of lives not only go unpunished, but are bailed out and rewarded for their crimes against humanity and the public trust!

MLPA Initiative fails to provide comprehensive protection

Grassroots environmentalists, fishermen, and Tribal members have criticized the so-called "marine protected areas" created under the MLPA Initiative for failing to protect the ocean from oil spills and drilling, pollution, military testing, corporate aquaculture, wind and wave energy projects and all other human impacts on the ocean other than fishing and gathering. They have also slammed the MLPA Blue Ribbon Task Forces that oversee the initiative for their domination by corporate interests, including a powerful oil industry lobbyist, real estate developer and marina operator.

In the most overt conflict of interest, Catherine Reheis-Boyd, the President of the Western States Petroleum Association, chaired the MLPA Blue Ribbon Task Force that developed the "marine protected areas" that went into effect in Southern California waters on January 1, 2012.

Reheis-Boyd is a relentless advocate for new offshore oil drilling off the West Coast, the environmentally destructive practice of hydraulic fracturing (hydrofracking), the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline and the evisceration of environmental laws. (http://redgreenandblue.org/2012/02/20/californias-ocean-guardian-promotes-keystone-xl-pipeline-fracking/)