Fish and Game officials aggressively pursue those who take undersized… (California Department…)
As California's spiny lobster season gets underway, authorities have cited more than 20 anglers for illegal activities, including exceeding the catch limit, taking undersized crustaceans and stealing from others' traps, officials said.
In the latest incident, officials with the state Department of Fish and Game are investigating reports that two fishermen poached lobsters from a state marine conservation area at Abalone Cove Shoreline Park in Rancho Palos Verdes.
Officials plan to question the men, who allegedly set a commercial trap and netted at least three lobsters in Abalone Cove. But because it was not clear whether the boat was in the marine preserve or just outside it, the men will probably be warned rather than cited, said Andrew Hughan, a Fish and Game spokesman.
Abalone Cove is one of 50 Southern California "marine protected areas" covering more than 350 square miles of coastal waters, from Point Conception to the U.S.-Mexico border, that became subject to strict fishing restrictions in January. Lobsters and other shellfish, however, have long been off limits in the area.
Earlier this month Fish and Game officials cited Yanwu Li of Rowland Heights, who was suspected of stealing a lobster from another person's commercial trap off Dana Point Harbor, along with three other violations. The citations, each of which carry penalties of as much as $1,000 and six months in jail, have been referred to the Orange County district attorney, Hughan said.
"Lobster poaching is a huge problem up and down the coast," Hughan said, adding that one hot spot was the Catalina Island area. "We're very vigilant in our efforts to stop this problem."
In particular, he said, officials aggressively pursue those who take undersized lobsters because they take seven years to grow to a legally catchable size — the body shell, without the tail, must measure at least 31/4 inches.
"If we catch you with an undersized lobster, you will get a ticket," he said.
Katie Howe, a Rancho Palos Verdes parks official, emphasized that starfish, hermit crabs, sea urchins and other sea life in the area's famous tide pools are also strictly off limits.
"A lot of families go there and see people pulling octopus out," she said. "It's traumatizing to kids to see the animals being hurt."
Sarah Sikich of Heal the Bay said her organization's report on the first six months of the new coastal restrictions found "overwhelming" compliance. The coastal protection group, which is based in Santa Monica, sends out about 60 trained volunteers each month to monitor activities in the marine preserves.
"The good news is that it's going well," Sikich said.
Howe asked that Abalone Cove visitors who witness poaching call the Rancho Palos Verdes Nature Preserve ranger hot line at (310) 491-5775. The lobster season runs until March 20.