Busting MPA Poachers: The Case of the Pacific Star


Feb poacher (1)

Last week the California Fish and Game Commission ordered a five-year suspension of the permit of Pacific Star Sportfishing, Inc., a recreational sport fishing vessel operator based out of San Diego, as a result of numerous violations including poaching within California’s marine protected area (MPA) network. The decision was reached following oral arguments made by the California Department Fish and Wildlife, legal counsel of the Pacific Star and its owner and members of the conservation community, including WILDCOAST.

lobster poaching

Poaching and the illegal take of marine resources is essentially theft of a resource shared by all Californians. The suspension of a Commercial Passenger Fishing Vessel (CPFV) permit for violations inside of an MPA has never before been handed down by the California Fish and Game Commission. The Pacific Star’s case sets legal precedent and sends a strong message to those that act outside of the law that poaching is a serious offense and carries a heavy consequence.

“Illegal take of our marine resources, especially in MPAs, undermines the tireless work of law enforcement, scientists, the public and fishermen in California,” said Commission President Eric Sklar. “The Commission took ample time to review the department’s accusation and we hope this serves as a message that we do not take lightly these sorts of violations and will ensure those who are responsible receive the appropriate penalty.”

The Pacific Star was one of the most egregious cases of poaching in an MPA that has ever come before the Commission. In 2013  undercover operation, California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) officers observed 18 distinct violations that included – poaching within California’s MPA network, exceeding possession limits, using illegal take methods, and failing to report accurate counts on logbooks. Based on these violations, CDFW filed an accusation with the Commission against Pacific Star requesting that the Commission suspend this commercial passenger fishing vessel license.

WILDCOAST led a coordinated effort to support the rejection of the original 90 day Commercial passenger fishing vessel (CPFV) permit suspension that came before the Fish and Game commissioners back in December of 2017 regarding the Pacific Star.

After receiving WILDCOAST’s sign-on letter and testimony, the Commission decided to reconsider the case at their February 2018 meeting. WILDCOAST attended both meetings to address the Commission through public comment and asked for the strictest possible penalty to be applied in the case of the Pacific Star.

“The Fish and Game Commission’s decision to suspend Pacific Star’s license sends a strong message that California will not tolerate poaching in our marine protected areas,” said Serge Dedina, WILDCOAST’s Executive Director. “The vast majority of fishermen follow the rules, and passengers on party boats should be able to trust the captain and crew to keep them on the right side of the law.”

WILDCOAST was one of several conservation organizations responsible for creating California’s MPA network back in 2012, and ever since, the group has helped to manage an ensure the effectiveness of the network.

The Pacific Star was first charged in Los Angeles and Santa Barbara County Superior Courts, and fined only $4,700. According to its website, the Pacific Star grossed between $6,000-$11,500 for a 2.5 day trip.