California fines San Diego fishermen USD 145,000 in poaching ring bust

Some of the products that the California Department of Fish and Wildlife seized
California Department of Fish and Wildlife seized tuna and swordfish from an illegal poaching ring | Photo courtesy of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife
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The U.S. state of California has busted a poaching ring based out of the city of San Diego that was illegally catching and selling bluefin tuna, yellowtail, and mahi.

California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) said the poaching ring engaged in commercial fishing with “no regard to limits, documentation, or adhering to the highly regulated business practices of the commercial fishing industry.” In total, the fishermen involved were fined USD 145,000 (EUR 135,000) for the infractions, which included buying and selling more than 5,500 pounds of illegally caught fish that were sold for more than USD 26,000 (EUR 24,200).

The CDFW said officers spend six months investigating David Haworth of San Diego, California and Nicholas Haworth of La Jolla, California. The two were buying and selling recreationally caught fish, failing to document landings, and operating an unlicensed fish business that falsified documents. The two were selling the illegally caught fish to local businesses and restaurants.

The two were purchasing fish from multiple fishermen, including Lucas Dirkse, Mitchell Bradford, Brandon Demelo, and David Brown of San Diego, California; and Tanner Whitmarsh and Trevor Whitmarsh of El Cajon, California, who were also involved in the scheme.

“By selling fish to the Haworths, participants engaged in numerous illegal fishing activities including failure to register as a commercial fishing vessel, failing to obtain required permits through the federal National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, selling fish caught on a commercial passenger fishing vessel and falsifying documents among many more violations,” the CDFW said.

Nicholas Haworth pleaded guilty and agreed to community service and a USD 10,000 (EUR 9,300) fine. David Haworth received a court-ordered diversion, and agreed to community service and to host six events feeding fish meals to the homeless through a local food bank.

Bradford, Dirkse, and Demelo all pleaded guilty and each received a USD 5,000 (EUR 4,600) fine and community service.

Both Tanner and Trevor Whitmarsh received the highest fines for “unfair business practices,” and will each be charged USD 60,000 (EUR 55,900).

David Brown failed to appear in court and “has an active warrant for his arrest.”

“Many of us live in San Diego because we appreciate the region’s natural wonders, including the fish that populate our rivers and oceans,” San Diego City Attorney Mara W. Elliott said in a release. “California’s strict environmental laws exist for one reason: to protect nature and to ensure its existence for generations to come. Our ability to enjoy the outdoors depends on vigorous enforcement and prosecution of the laws that preserve our surroundings.”  

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