State wildlife officials cited a Riverside County man Sunday for allegedly poaching dozens of lobsters inside one of Southern California's new marine sanctuaries, in what authorities called the first major violation of fishing restrictions that took effect Jan. 1.
The state Department of Fish and Game said Marbel A. Para, 30, of Romoland and a companion were diving off Laguna Beach shortly after midnight when wardens stopped them and found 47 spiny lobsters, most of them below the legal size limit.
Para was cited for several alleged poaching violations, including unlawful take and illegal possession of lobster and holding more than the legal limit of seven lobsters per diver. His companion was not cited.
The lobsters were photographed and returned to the ocean.
The Laguna Beach sanctuary is part of a network of protected marine areas that went into effect this month along about 15% of the Southern California coast.
The sanctuaries span more than 350 square miles of the state's busiest waters, from Santa Barbara County to the Mexico border, and are intended to allow depleted marine populations to recover. They include areas off-limits to anglers as well as some that allow limited fishing.
The area where Para was cited Sunday, off Heisler Park in Laguna Beach, has been closed to lobster fishing for years, even before the sanctuary was created, officials said.
"It is always our goal to catch those who choose to intentionally abuse the resources of this state for their own benefit," said Paul Hamdorf, assistant chief of the Department of Fish and Game. He described most anglers and divers as responsible and law-abiding.
Spiny lobsters have been a frequent target of poachers in recent months. In September, wardens arrested five men for allegedly plucking 132 of the crustaceans from the ocean in Redondo Beach.