Environmental Law

Envt'l Law News Fall 2018, Vol. 27, No. 2

Decline of the Abalone in California: A Local Enforcement Perspective

by Justin J. Lee*

It is low-tide in Pacific Grove, a small quaint coastal town in Monterey County. The ocean waters have receded. The intertidal rocks and invertebrates are exposed—accessible. A uniformed California Fish and Wildlife warden is patrolling down the scenic coast, keeping her eyes peeled for poachers exploiting these prime conditions.

She spots a man bent down over some intertidal rocks. Using her Department-issued binoculars, she observes the man stand up, holding a screwdriver in one hand and a small dark-colored object in the other. He’s wearing rubber gloves. The warden approaches the man. Upon seeing the warden, the man quickly places the screwdriver and dark-colored object behind some rocks.

The warden asks if the man is taking abalones off the rocks. The man says no; he is "just looking." The warden sees the yellow handle of the screwdriver behind a rock next to a blue backpack. She peers over the rock and sees the screwdriver next to what she unmistakably recognizes as a black abalone, a federally protected endangered species. The shell is smooth and mostly black. The warden asks if she can search the backpack. The man agrees. Inside she finds a large plastic bag with an additional five black abalones. Only one of the six abalones survive. The warden reattaches the lone survivor to an intertidal rock. The remaining dead abalones are seized as evidence for trial.

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