Illegal fishing by a Sportfishing boat...

Ken Jones

Staff member

Media Contacts:
Capt. Patrick Foy, CDFW Law Enforcement Division, (916) 508-7095

Commercial Poachers Convicted for Illegal Fishing
in Marine Protected Areas
New Law Increases Fines and Penalties for Unlawful Take of Marine Resources​

A San Diego County judge recently imposed a $5,000 fine on a Commercial Passenger Fishing Vessel (CPFV) operating in a Marine Protected Area (MPA), the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) announced. It was the first implementation of increased commercial poaching fines and penalties under Assembly Bill 2369, authored by San Diego Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher. AB 2369, which is specific to illegal activity in California’s MPAs, went into effect in Jan. 2019.

The case was tried in San Diego County Superior Court and prosecuted by San Diego County Deputy District Attorney, Landy Spencer-Daly.

The case was initiated in December 2020 by wildlife officers aboard the CDFW patrol boat Thresher as they patrolled the Swami’s State Marine Conservation Area (SMCA), one of many regions of California’s coast protected by designation as an MPA. Swami’s SMCA is located midway along the coast of San Diego County. Acting on a tip regarding illegal fishing in the SMCA, the officers noticed the CPFV Electra on their radar and their Automatic Identification System inside the northwest corner of the SMCA. As the Thresher approached the Electra, wildlife officers noticed passengers on the boat reeling in lines and keeping fish. After boarding the vessel for inspection, the officers clearly documented commercial passenger fishing vessel activity and cited the vessel’s captain for fishing in the Swami’s SMCA. The case was solidified with further documentation of the vessel’s presence in the MPA via the shore-based radar Marine Monitor vessel tracking system. The Electra is owned by Helgren’s Sportfishing, based out of Oceanside Harbor.

In November, Helgren’s Sportfishing, through owner Joseph Helgren, pleaded guilty to a violation of Fish and Game Code, section 12012.5, resulting in a fine of $5,000 and an order to stay out of Swami’s SMCA for one year.

The $5,000 minimum fine imposed in the Electra case is the first of its kind since the law was passed,” stated David Bess, CDFW Deputy Director and Chief of the Law Enforcement Division. “We hope the Electra case disposition will send a message that commercial fishing in an MPA will be stopped by wildlife officers and will result in substantial fines.”

The law specifically states that if a CPFV operator fishes or facilitates fishing in an MPA, that operator is guilty of a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of not less than $5,000 nor more than $40,000, imprisonment in the county jail for not more than one year, or by both a fine and imprisonment. If a person is convicted of a subsequent violation occurring within 10 years of a prior violation that resulted in a conviction, CDFW may suspend that person’s commercial fishing license. Subsequent violations are also subject to fines of not less than $10,000 nor more than $50,000, imprisonment in the county jail for not more than one year, or by both a fine and imprisonment.

Brock Norris

Well-Known Member
Im thinking there could be more to this . These boats are on the water daily they know the closures and they know fish and wildlife are watching. Could be a rookie skipper who unknowingly drifted into the closed area , maybe not intentional ? But always remember if calif could they would shut down the entire coast to any kind of take ''' conservation not confiscation ok my two cents thanks.


Senior Member
F&W spends a lot of money on research. The wardens get paid close to Highway Patrol officers, yet they need to know more than HP officers. Thus, not too many apply.

When “they” were deciding on what to do about MLPA closures years ago, I attended a meeting with the committee that would decide.

During the meeting, I asked the representative of F&W that how many new wardens they were planning to hire to enforce the new rules.

The representative of Department of F&W said Nine (9) additional wardens.

I replied that you can close the whole California, but you won’t be able to enforce it with only nine additional wardens.

I added, why not hire wardens to enforce the existing laws. I continued to say, “at any given day in summer, why not send wardens to Santa Monica pier and catch the lobster poachers”.

No reply back.

Ken Jones

Staff member
Unfortunately the DF&W is WAY understaffed with wardens and WAY overstaffed with biologists and support people. It's been that way for years and has only gotten worse. There should be some kind of rule that whenever a biologist or staff person is hired a warden also has to be hired.

Then there are the shenanigans when the big shots in the department trade jobs around shortly before retirement to increase their retirement checks. It's unreported but those in the know are aware of what takes place in Sacramento and it's often not a pretty picture.