For many San Diegans, the La Jolla Underwater Park is a tranquil place to observe marine life in its natural environment. Poachers, however, seem to view the state-protected marine conservation area as their own personal source of fresh seafood.
Earlier this month, one lobster poacher with a history of repeat offenses was sentenced to 90 days in jail after he was caught taking crustaceans from the La Jolla Underwater Park. At the time of his arrest, he was observed using a hand line to fish for lobster. When approached by a Fish and Game warden, the man attempted to fling the fishing line into the ocean, but his efforts failed as the line was still connected to a spool in his pocket. The man then tried giving a false name, but the warden recognized him from earlier arrests. Four lobsters were found in a bag in his possession. This was the third time in the past year and a half the man has been convicted of poaching in the same area of La Jolla.
"Poaching...is very frustrating," says Dr. Ed Parnell, a marine ecologist at Scripps Institution of Oceanography.
"I've witnessed poaching on several occasions myself and called the poaching hotline," says Parnell, "but Department of Fish and Game enforcement is short-staffed to the point that they can't immediately respond."
Although it is illegal to take any living, geological, or cultural marine resources from the La Jolla Underwater Park Ecological Reserve, poachers do not appear to be getting the message.
Parnell and his colleagues conducted a study in collaboration with the anthropology department at UCSD and discovered that most people learned the rules of the reserve through word-of-mouth and the internet. "Clearly, that is not good enough," says Parnell.
He points out, however, that the map at La Jolla Shores is a great effort to educate both visitors and residents about the rules of the reserve and the animals and many varied habitats found there.
"Poaching in a reserve is serious because it is all too easy to deplete the larger animals that live in reserves in just a short time, especially in a reserve as small as the La Jolla Ecological Reserve," says Parnell.