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2018 AOTY/DOTY Entry

Topic: Is Lobster Poaching From Commercial Traps a Felony?  (Read 313 times)

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  • Manatee
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  • Location: Fremont, CA
  • Date Registered: Feb 2007
  • Posts: 18202
November 23, 2017

Question: I recently heard that a recreational lobster diver who takes lobster from a commercial lobster trap could be arrested and booked into jail on felony charges. Is this true? (Anonymous diver, Orange County)

Answer: Yes, it’s true. California Penal Code, section 487 includes several subsections that describe Grand Theft, which is in fact, a felony. A recreational diver who steals fish, shellfish, mollusks, crustaceans, kelp, algae or other aquacultural products from a commercial or research operation which is producing that product of a value exceeding $250, has committed a felony. So in addition to theft from commercial lobster traps, this also covers theft from commercial crab traps, and theft from an aquaculture facility.

You’d be surprised how easily the value of those lobsters can add up. The per pound price of California harvested spiny lobsters is as much as $32 per pound in November 2017. But even theft of less than $250 worth of lobster from a commercial trap potentially involves misdemeanor-level violations, including theft, and disturbing another person’s traps (California Fish and Game Code, section 9002). Technically the penalties and fines for each misdemeanor conviction could amount to a sentence of six months in jail and a fine of up to $1,000. Another important note: two or more recreational divers who conspire together to commit the misdemeanor violation of stealing lobsters from a commercial trap, and steal a total amount of lobsters that exceed the $250 threshold, are also both potentially guilty of felonies. California law and California wildlife officers take the violation of stealing from commercial fishermens’ traps very seriously. In addition to being illegal, this behavior is unethical and unsportsmanlike. If you come across an underwater trap, leave it alone!

The vast majority of lobster anglers, whether divers or hoop netters, are law-abiding. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife website includes a lobster information webpage to help lobster enthusiasts stay within the law and have a safe, enjoyable lobster fishing experience.