Former San Diego Yacht Club commodore tied up in poaching case

Some club members accused of illegally taking abalone and lobster near Catalina coast.

SAN DIEGO — Most residents of California, regardless of age or background, could probably recall poaching abalone, a typed of shellfish, is illegal. In a recent poaching case involving members of San Diego Yacht Club (SDYC) harvesting lobster and abalone off of Catalina, it is a difficult pill to swallow. The Log can testify there are plenty of fishermen, yacht club members, sailors and other ocean activists who work to protect the ocean and its creatures. Besides, how can the future generations enjoy these same activities if we refuse to care for the ocean’s arena and her population?

The Lowdown

On Aug. 25, an anonymous tip was given to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. Men were allegedly diving into the water close to Catalina Island and catching lobsters (it is also illegal in California to catch the crustaceans outside of lobster season, which began on Sept. 29 and runs through March 20, 2019) and abalone.

Game wardens were led to a vessel named EZ Rider, which was owned by the former commodore of the SDYC, Chuck Nichols. While the boat was unoccupied, wardens searched it and found a slew of lobster and abalone carcasses beneath the boat, plus four shucked abalone and five lobster tails in a cooler. The wardens, eventually, were able to locate Nichols at Catalina Island nearby.

The current commodore of SDYC, Michael J. Dorgan, released a statement to Voice of San Diego, saying: “In spite of the lack of a direct connection to SDYC, and while I can’t comment on the specific allegations against the individuals involved, I can tell you that SDYC considers its stewardship of our natural resources to be of tremendous importance in all of our programs, and we always insist that our members follow not only the letter of the law but also the spirit of the law when they participate in SDYC and/or other programs, including our angling activities.”

Why is poaching so wrong?

Ethos would mandate humans, as complex beings, should care for the pain and suffering caused to other life no matter how big or how small. Poaching, however, is dangerous for many reasons beyond the cute factor of a poachable creature. Just as the environment on land has experienced changes since its creation, so has the marine atmosphere. It’s also important to note poaching also differs from fishing, angling and hunting because it is done for a profit.

For frequent readers of this publication, The National Geographic and even general Google searches, there is quite a bit of scientific backing to show how the ocean is adapting to increased traffic in the waters. Even dolphins are changing the length of their calls to navigate the increased boating traffic in the waters.

The ocean houses its own fragile ecosystem. One choice can alter the makeup of the ocean and cause imbalance to the delicate cycle of life.

According to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA): “Abalone play an important ecological role in marine ecosystems by helping to stabilize kelp forests and rocky reefs. Unfortunately, the decline in abalone populations has drastically altered these marine habitats—a phenomenon scientists have witnessed across the West Coast.”

Poaching laws exist for a reason; going against those laws can interfere with years of scientific research and action to improve the ocean’s environment — or any ecosystem, for that matter. Not to mention, poaching can lead to additional problems such as funding criminal agendas, endangering local economies and harming tourism.

The attack of the purple sea urchins & examples of harm to local ecosystems

Up north, the purple sea urchin population has exploded and, in a few short years, almost completely depleted the seaweed reefs. One reason this has happened is because hunters of the urchins, such as otters, have become endangered. In an article by NOAA, it was also stated that black abalone on California’s coast once kept the urchins in check. Due to the decline in abalone, this has additionally contributed to the destruction of the kelp forests.

NOAA states: “In an urchin barren, poor water quality from coastal degradation, lack of predators, and the absence of key species, like abalone, all contribute to uncontrolled population growth. The urchins begin moving away from cracks and crevices where they normally live and search for any kelp or algae in their path, eventually destroying kelp forest areas.”

There are several other examples of how a slight change to the environment can result in cases like this, for instance the introduction of non-native animals to Catalina Island or the illegal fishing practices that have completely destroyed the critically endangered vaquita porpoise’s population.

While a single poaching case may not seem like a big deal, the repeated cycle can cause lasting and dangerous effects to the natural world.

Photo: California DFW

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