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April 03, 2017

Poacher Busted for Messing with California’s MPAs

Abalone poacher caught in the South La Jolla State Marine Reserve receives a $30K fine and is banned from the San Diego City coastline.
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Image by Hayley Miller

In a recent victory for San Diego County Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), San Diego City Attorney Mara Elliot struck a plea deal with poacher Jeff Anthony Zenin which landed him 3 years of probation, a $30,000 fine, the loss of all fishing gear used during his poaching acts and the forfeiture of his rights to obtain a fishing license in the state of California. Zenin, a resident of Arizona, was caught poaching abalone in the South La Jolla State Marine Reserve (SMR) in September and October of 2015. Due to the fact that Zenin was caught poaching inside an MPA he was penalized to a greater extent than the typical abalone poacher. Follow the link to read the full article in the San Diego Union-Tribune.

MPAs are established to protect the natural resources within by creating take restrictions. MPAs are often placed in areas of ecological significance that act as essential habitat for managed species. MPAs offer a conservation solution to the overharvest and incidental take of species that ensure a healthy functioning ecosystem. 

Areas of protection have been long accepted as an ecologically sustainable management strategy in terrestrial systems. Garrett Hardin’s 1968 article “The Tragedy of the Commons” outlines the social nature of humans to act in their own best interest when dealing with a shared-resource system. This behavior depletes the resource and only increases competition for what remains. The “tragedy” is that the resource that many depend on is then completely depleted. The remedy to this social problem is habitat protection and adaptive management strategies to ensure sustainability of the shared resource.

MPAs essentially take what ecologists have learned through resource conservation in terrestrial settings like national and state parks and apply it to the marine environment. Although MPAs are relatively new in San Diego County (established in 2012), they have been proven effective in other locations. “A Decade of Protection” written by PISCO scientist Dr. Jennifer Caselle explains that the MPAs in the Northern Channel Islands, which have been in place for 14 years, consistently show larger size and greater numbers for targeted species.

In San Diego County we have 11 MPAs that make up about 18,000 acres of protected habitat. The South La Jolla MPA where this poacher was caught is home to some of the richest kelp forest in southern California. The South La Jolla MPA and all MPAs in San Diego County act as a recharge center for the ocean, as organisms spill out of the boundaries and into areas where take is permissible.

The illegal take resources and protected organisms is an affront to those that follow the laws and regulation set in place by well informed ecological stewards and stakeholders. WILDCOAST commends the efforts of our local courts and law enforcement to ensure the continued health of San Diego’s coastal and marine ecosystems and wildlife through the strict enforcement of violations. Anyone who witnesses unlawful poaching of fish and wildlife or pollution is encouraged to call the CADFW anonymous CalTIP hotline (888) 334-2258.