Pacific Star Sportfishing Faces Five Year License Suspension for Poaching in Marine Protected Area

by Michael Quill

Captain Michael Quill on the LA Waterkeeper boat

LAW’s Marine Protected Area (MPA) Boat Based Survey team has been monitoring human activity in and around the waters of our mainland LA County MPAs since January 2012. Fishing in these protected areas is prohibited or restricted.

While some illegal fishing is accidental, there are folks out there who knowingly break the laws. Those folks would be labeled as poachers.

Word on the water has been that even when a poacher is caught and cited for fishing illegally, the fines imposed are not enough to deter continued illegal commercial or recreational fishing activities. That changed a few weeks ago.

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) is charged with enforcing MPA rules. Acting on a tip, CDFW wardens went undercover on a Pacific Star Sportfishing, Inc. charter boat in 2013, seeking to ensure the vessel was following regulations, particularly within the California MPA network. They found the Pacific Star fishing in an MPA, using illegal fishing gear, allowing passengers to fish without a license, exceeding catch limits of several fish species, failing to report accurate counts on logbooks, and catching and keeping undersized fish—totaling 18 separate violations of wildlife rules.

The Pacific Star was originally charged in LA and Santa Barbara County Superior Courts, and fined $4,700. According to its website, the Pacific Star charges between $6,000-$11,500 for a 2.5 day trip. Based on the disturbing violations witnessed by the undercover wardens onboard the Pacific Star, CDFW filed an accusation with the California Fish and Game Commission, requesting the Commission suspend Pacific Star’s commercial passenger fishing vessel license.

On February 7, the Commission did just that. After hearing comments from ocean advocates about the impacts of poaching in marine reserves— including comments from LAW’s Marine Program Director Michael Quill as well as WILDCOAST and Heal the Bay representatives —the Commission ordered a five-year license suspension.

“Illegal take of our marine resources, especially in MPAs, undermines the tireless work of law enforcement, scientists, the public, and fishermen in California,” stated 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 caught violating MPA rules in the Santa Barbara Island State Marine Reserve within the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary. The area has been a designated no-fishing zone since 2002. MPA violations knowingly committed by poachers like Pacific Star are acts of community thievery that serve to weaken the abundance and health of our MPAs. These are acts of theft for profit. The Commission’s decision to suspend Pacific Star’s license for 5 years and basically put them out of business, is a strong outreach and education statement that reinforces how seriously California takes protection of our marine resources. Hopefully this statement will encourage fishers to think twice before breaking the law.


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