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Lobster Poachers Stuck in Hot Water

October 19, 1994|PETE THOMAS

Dozens of lobsters were spared after three incidents this month, but six men have landed in hot water for putting them through it.

In two instances, warden Chris Graff of the Department of Fish and Game saved the crustacean.

On the morning of Oct. 10, Graff spotted two divers swimming near buoys attached to commercial lobster traps off San Clemente and confronted them when they reached the beach.

They protested their innocence, but Graff later spotted several spiny lobsters on a second-floor balcony of an apartment he had seen Timothy S. Ellis, one of the divers, enter earlier in the day.

Graff knocked on the door, someone opened it, then quickly slammed it in Graff's face, but not before he was able to see lobsters being prepared in the kitchen.

Graff went to the side of the building and saw a woman stuffing lobsters into a bag. She then tossed them down to Ellis, who sped away in a car.

Graff gave chase, but lost Ellis in traffic. When Ellis eventually returned, without the lobsters, he was greeted by Graff and sheriff's deputies, who persuaded him to divulge the whereabouts of the animals.

Fourteen lobsters, 10 of which were undersized, were found in a vacant lot about a mile away. All were alive and eventually set free.

Four more, however, were found in the apartment, fully cooked.

Ellis was booked and charged with interfering with an officer involved in an investigation and with 10 counts of possessing undersized lobsters. A second diver is being sought.


Graff wasn't through playing protector of shellfish.

When he returned to the beach at dusk, he noticed a skiff moving from location to location.

He approached the five people on the boat at the launch ramp at Dana Point Harbor and found, wrapped in a nylon net and hidden from view, 33 live lobsters, including 28 "shorts."

The lobsters were set free, but four Westminster men were arrested. A 12-year-old aboard was not cited.

Cong Van Le, 40, and son Dinh Van Le, 21, and Mien Van Le, 23, and Hao Van Nguyen, 18, were charged with numerous violations, including poaching from commercial traps.


In the third incident, another indication that stealing from traps is a threat to legitimate lobster fishermen, DFG wardens arrested Richard A. Craig, 27, of Rancho Santa Margarita.

Wardens Dan Sforza and Marty Maytorena, with the cooperation of commercial fishermen, tagged four lobsters, put them in a trap and sent it to the bottom off Laguna Beach.

After several hours of watching, using night-vision scopes, they saw two divers swimming near the buoy. On the beach the wardens encountered Craig and his 13-year-old son, with two of the tagged lobsters.

They confiscated Craig's diving gear and cited him for poaching, using an illegal method of taking lobsters and petty theft.

"It doesn't sound like much, one or two lobsters, but it's like stealing someone's paycheck," Sforza said. "The average, legal-sized lobster weighs about 1.25 pounds and will bring $7.50 a pound, so two (lobsters) represent $20 income to a lobster fisherman."


HUNTING--The increasingly popular junior pheasant hunts will take place at six Southland and Eastern Sierra locations in the next several weeks. The DFG is sponsoring the hunts, designed to spark an interest in the sport among youngsters, and volunteers from local hunting-conservation groups help ensure the program's success. The six hunts are at Eagle Peak Ranch near Julian, Oct. 29; San Jacinto Wildlife Area near Lake Perris, Nov. 12; Raahauge's Pheasant Club in Norco, Nov. 19; Imperial Valley near Calexico, Dec. 10; Palo Verde Valley near Blythe, Dec. 10, and Lone Pine Pheasant Club, Dec. 31. Prospective hunters must be at least 16 and possess a junior hunting license--at a cost of $5.80--to be eligible for draws held in the days before each hunt. Details: (310) 590-5158.

SALTWATER FISHING--Recent winds and rough seas might have put an end to the tuna bite at the outer banks. Boats are reporting limited success, catching mostly skipjacks. Rockfish and calico bass will soon dominate the local fish counts. The bite south of the border, however, has yet to let up and skippers are hoping for a bite that will last well into November.

BOATING--The annual Long Beach Boat Show begins a five-day run today at the Long Beach Convention Center and Downtown Marina. The event features more than 400 boats, including the 70-foot Shift of Ipswich, a schooner once owned by James Cagney.

MISCELLANY--Former President George Bush has been stalking the "gray ghosts" of the Florida Keys. Bush participated in the recent George Bush Bonefish Tournament and caught one of eight of the elusive fighters, a 12-pounder. . . . Larry Green, a widely known Northern California outdoor reporter, died of an apparent heart attack at 57. Green, the "Fisherman's Forecaster" for San Francisco radio station KCBS, wrote for several outdoor publications.

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