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Outdoors Q&A: Is Lobster Poaching From Commercial Traps a Felony?

In November, harvested California spiny lobsters cost up to $32 per pound

California spiny lobsters.
California spiny lobsters. (Derek Stein/CDFW)

Question: I recently heard that a recreational lobster diver who takes lobster from a commercial lobster trap could be arrested and booked into jail on felony charges. Is this true? (Anonymous diver, Orange County)

Answer: Yes, it’s true. California Penal Code, section 487 includes several subsections that describe grand theft, which is in fact, a felony.

A recreational diver who steals fish, shellfish, mollusks, crustaceans, kelp, algae or other aquacultural products from a commercial or research operation which is producing that product of a value exceeding $250, has committed a felony.

So in addition to theft from commercial lobster traps, this covers theft from commercial crab traps, and theft from an aquaculture facility.

You’d be surprised how easily the value of those lobsters can add up.

The per pound price of California harvested spiny lobsters is as much as $32 per pound in November. But even theft of less than $250 worth of lobster from a commercial trap potentially involves misdemeanor-level violations.

Those violations include theft, and disturbing another person’s traps (California Fish and Game Code, section 9002).

Technically, the penalties and fines for each misdemeanor conviction could amount to a sentence of six months in jail and a fine of up to $1,000.

Another important note: Two or more recreational divers who conspire together to commit the misdemeanor violation of stealing lobsters from a commercial trap, and steal a total amount of lobsters that exceed the $250 threshold, are also both potentially guilty of felonies.

California law and California wildlife officers take the violation of stealing from commercial fishermen’s traps very seriously. In addition to being illegal, the behavior is unethical and unsportsmanlike.

If you come across an underwater trap, leave it alone!

The vast majority of lobster anglers, whether divers or hoop netters, are law-abiding.

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife website includes a lobster information webpage to help lobster enthusiasts stay within the law and have a safe, enjoyable lobster fishing experience.

Using a rangefinder on a compound bow

Q: Is it legal to mount a rangefinder on a compound bow when hunting deer or bear? (Roger)

A: Scopes with laser rangefinders are not prohibited.

Just be sure the device does not project any visible light or electronically intensified light for the purpose of either visibly enhancing an animal or providing a visible point of aim on an animal (California Code of Regulations Title 14, section 353(i)).

These devices may be used only for the take of non-game and fur-bearing mammals as provided in the Mammal Hunting Regulations (CCR Title 14, section 264.5).

Trapping minnows for bait

Q: Is it legal under a California fishing license to trap minnows using basic minnow traps? The minnows would be used for targeted game fish (striped bass). I see regulations for commercial minnow trapping but not non-commercial. (Michael N.)

A: The term minnow often is used to refer to many different species of small baitfish, some of which belong to the minnow family.

Depending upon where in the state you plan to use the minnows and, more specifically, which species of minnow (e.g. longjaw mudsucker, fathead minnow, Mississippi silverside, etc.), you will need to check the appropriate baitfish regulations that apply to the specific waters where you intend to fish (CCR Title 14, section 4.25).

That said, approved baitfish may be taken by hand, with a dip net, or with traps not over 3 feet in greatest dimension (CCR Title 14, section 4.05).

— Carrie Wilson is a marine biologist with the California Department of Fish & Wildlife. She can be reached at [email protected].

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