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October 2002 Vol. 28, No. 10   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Men With Big Abs

from the October, 2002 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

California’s red abalone, a single-shelled mollusk that clings to rocks, can’t be commercially taken since they and related species have nearly been wiped out. Free divers can take twenty-four a year or three a day, but only for personal consumption. Since abs are worth as much as $100 apiece on the black market on the streets of San Francisco, $200 if they can be exported to Japan, plenty of divers go for them, though the risk of fines is big.

In April, a Vietnamese diver was fined $30,000 and given eleven months in jail for poaching abalone off the Sonoma Coast. His five cohorts, who either poached or sold the abalone to restaurants, split another $40,000 in fines and seven months in jail. In another case, scuba diver Larry St. Clair is out on $40,000 bail, awaiting trial for abalone poaching in Mendocino. Officials saw him go under and then come up fifty minutes later with a full goody bag, and they apprehended him as he fled in his wetsuit. Police confiscated fifty-three red abalones, which he had shucked underwater, his 2001 Dodge pickup, an inflatable boat, extra tanks, and ice chests. Apparently, he had poached thousands of abalone in ten months, selling them for up to $40 each in San Francisco’s Chinatown.

In September, State Fish and Game wardens received an anonymous tip about two divers, then spotted John Quinliven of Ukiah. Wardens said that after receiving the tip, they saw Quinliven on the Mendocino coast, transferring numerous abalone into two coolers. They followed him to Santa Rosa, watched him pass the abalone to Dung Le, and then arrested the two. The two were found with twenty-nine red abalone. Wardens confiscated $1,100 in cash and the two cars the men used to transport the abalone.

Then there is Joel Robert of Santa Cruz, once a commercial diver who sat on the state’s Commercial Abalone Advisory Committee, railed against abalone poachers on CNN, and told a reporter that if he or his diving partner came across any poachers, they “would have to deal with us.’’ Unbeknown to Roberts, reports the San Jose Mercury News, three years ago Department of Fish and Game wardens watched John Funkey, a local surfer, rent a Rent-a-Wreck van and drive to Roberts’ house near the Santa Cruz boardwalk. They followed the two men and watched them as they made their 18th trip to the Sonoma Coast to dive for abalone two nights during the off-season. They arrested them when they unloaded their illegal cargo near the San Francisco storage unit, belonging to Goldmine Seafood Company. In exchange for a reduced sentence, Funkey testified against Goldmine owner Jimmy Fong. Roberts, 39, was sentenced in June to three years in state prison, fined $25,800, and his fishing privileges have been revoked for life.

In Australia, they’re just as tough. A fellow was recently fined U.S. $60,000 for attempting to sell more than 600 abalone, 581 over the personal limit.

P.S.: California lobsters also are the target of divers. In Los Angeles, Jon Michael Hand sold 1,194 lobsters, made $18,000, and will probably get a stiffer sentence than his accompolice, who was fined $5,535 and placed on three years probation, during which time he is not allowed to fish or hunt for lobster, or be with anyone who is fishing or lobster hunting.

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