California cracks down on fishing in protected areas, but anglers slip under the radar

Los Angeles Times –

Cory Pukini wasn’t surprised when he spotted a pair of kayakers on a recent Friday morning illegally fishing inside a marine protected area off La Jolla Cove.

He’s been working with the nonprofit Wildcoast for three years and grew up fishing in Southern California — long before California’s network of marine protected areas, or MPAs, was dramatically expanded in 2012.

“You guys are inside of the MPA here,” Pukini said from the deck of a Boston Whaler that the conservation group routinely uses to monitor the protected areas. “We’ve got a wildlife and recreation guide to help you stay in compliance.”

Trina Williams of Tierrasanta happily accepted a laminated map of the state’s coast and its MPAs. “I thought I could just drop some line and catch the little Spanish mackerel,” said the 31-year-old from her kayak.

“I knew that it was protected because my husband, who’s teaching me fishing, said there’s this invisible line,” she added, “but you have to kind of guess where it’s at.”

In recent years, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife has increasingly cracked down on commercial boat operators who escort passengers into MPAs to illegally catch everything from rockfish to bass to yellowtail.

Wardens issued 1,053 warnings and 686 citations for illegal fishing in the protected areas in 2017, according to the agency’s most recently available data. That’s up dramatically from 2013, when wardens gave out just 396 warnings and issued 327 citations.

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