Byline: The Log Staff
LAGUNA BEACH — Department of Fish and Game (DFG) wardens cited Marbel A. Para, 30, on charges of poaching dozens of lobsters inside a South Coast Marine Protected Area (MPA) near Heisler Park, Jan 15.
The DFG announced that the citation was the first one issued since enforcement began in the new network of South Coast MPAs, put in place Jan. 1. However, the violation occurred in the Laguna Beach State Marine Reserve — an area that has been a no-take zone for lobsters for years. And the taking of so many undersized lobsters would have been a violation even if no marine reserve had existed.
DFG wardens reportedly watched Para, of Romoland (in Riverside County), and a companion went scuba diving in the Heisler Park area along the coast of Laguna Beach after midnight Jan. 15.
After the divers left the water and returned to their vehicle, the wardens made contact with them and reportedly discovered 47 California spiny lobsters in their possession.
Wardens said that 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 undersized. Para claimed that all the lobsters were his, and his companion was not cited.
Southern California’s new MPAs were created through the Marine Life Protection Act to strengthen existing marine reserves and fishing regulations, in an attempt to allow recovery of fish populations that have been in decline. Sportfishing groups have argued that these closures were unnecessary and that claims of “overfishing” being the cause of declining fish populations have not been supported by scientific evidence.
The South Coast no-fishing zones have been integrated into California’s network of 124 Marine Protected Area, which cover around 16 percent of the state’s 1,100-mile coastline. The California Fish and Game Commission originally approved the South Coast Region MPAs in December 2010, without indicating where additional funds for enforcement of new no-take regulations would come from.
According to one estimate, the South Coast MPA region would require $40 million in funding for proper DFG monitoring and enforcement to take place.
Currently, the California DFG employs the fewest wardens per capita of any state in the U.S. With Gov. Jerry Brown’s 2012 budget showing further cuts to DFG staff, concerns have been raised about whether wardens will be able to properly enforce no-take regulations in the MPAs, or whether the areas will become easy targets for poachers.
“The vast majority of our fishing and diving constituents are responsible and law-abiding,” said DFG assistant chief Paul Hamdorff. “It is always our goal to catch those who choose to intentionally abuse the resources of this state for their own benefit.”
Wardens cited Para on several poaching violations, including unlawful take and illegal possession of lobster, possession of overlimits and possession of undersized animals. A report will be filed with the Orange County District Attorney’s Office, and Para may face additional charges related to this case.
All of the lobsters were confiscated, photographed as evidence and then safely returned to the ocean, according to the DFG.