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District Attorney Boudin Announces Civil Prosecution Against Commercial Fisherman for Fishing in the North Farallon Islands State Marine Reserve

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Twitter: @SFDAOffice
CONTACT: Rachel Marshall / (415) 416-4468 / Rachel.Marshall@sfgov.org
Director of Communications / Policy Advisor / Assistant District Attorney  

SAN FRANCISCO – Today, San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin announced that the District Attorney’s Office, working with California’s Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW), filed a civil prosecution against a commercial fisherman for unlawfully fishing in the North Farallon Islands State Marine Reserve, a highly protected Marine Protected Area where taking any fish is unlawful.  Marine Protected Areas are discrete geographic marine or estuarine areas designed to protect or conserve marine life and habitat.

“Protecting the environment is a key part of promoting public safety for our community,” said District Attorney Boudin.  “The State Marine Reserves near the Farallon Islands safeguard a wide variety of significant marine life important to the people of California. Crabbing and fishing in these waters is illegal, and my office will hold violators accountable for the harm they cause to this cherished part of San Francisco for their own financial gain.” 

“What’s remarkable about this incident is how we learned about it,” said Eric Kord, Assistant Chief for the Marine Enforcement District with the California Department of Fish & Wildlife.  “Our officers received an anonymous tip from a commercial fisherman who said he saw another fisherman’s crab traps in the Marine Protected Area.  He was concerned that this fisherman’s illegal activities would put other law-abiding fisherman in a bad light.  This is a large-scale incident of unlawful take from a Marine Protected Area, and we might not have known about it had another commercial fisherman not reported the illegal activity.”   

Responding to that anonymous tip, CDFW observed 92 crab traps in the North Farallon Islands State Marine Reserve.  The traps were marked with tags and buoys belonging to Tam Tran, a resident of Vallejo, CA, and his fishing vessel, Pacific Mist.  Over multiple trips in the following days, while battling difficult sea and weather conditions, CDFW seized and photographed the traps, and returned over 250 Dungeness crabs that had been trapped back to the Reserve. 

Traps have been known to entangle whales and sea turtles, and CDFW has been working actively with industry partners to reduce the risk of entanglements.  The Marine Protected Areas around the Farallon Islands are the farthest offshore in North California, a location where whales migrate.

California’s Marine Protected Areas

California’s network of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) protects the diversity and abundance of marine life, the habitats they depend on, and the integrity of the marine ecosystems.  The Marine Life Protection Act of 1999 directs the state to redesign California’s system of MPAs to function as network to increase coherence and effectiveness in protecting the state’s marine life, habitats, and ecosystems.

The five MPAs in San Francisco County are all near the Farallon Islands.  The Farallon Islands archipelago, which lies 30 miles outside the Golden Gate, is home to thousands of diverse species.  The North Farallon Islands State Marine Reserve and the Southeast Farallon Island State Marine Reserve are the two most protected MPAs in this region.  With limited exceptions, it is unlawful to take any marine resource from a State Marine Reserve. 

The District Attorney’s Lawsuit

The lawsuit is brought under California’s unfair competition law, Business & Professions Code section 17200, on the ground that Defendant Tam Tran engaged in unfair competition through unlawful conduct by violating California Fish & Game Code section 12012.5, which prohibits commercial fisherman from taking any fish from a Marine Protected Area. Section 12012.5 makes it a misdemeanor to fish in a Marine Protected Area and imposes fines ranging from $5,000 to $40,000 for the first offense. 

You can read the official complaint here.