COAST CITIES — Two years after the debut of new and expanded marine protected areas, wardens are placing a greater emphasis on citations for illegal activity in the reserves.
During the first year of the protected areas, wardens were more reluctant to issue fines for violations in the new reserves — areas that limit or ban fishing — to allow fishermen to become familiar with the boundaries.
Additionally, outreach campaigns informed the general public about the reserves, said Andrew Hughan, a spokesman with the California Fish and Wildlife Department. Awareness levels are higher, prompting the shift to enforcement, he said.
“As we move forward, the wardens will continue to write appropriate citations and forward them to the courts,” Hughan said. “I have been on several patrols with wardens where they watch the anglers and boats that get close to the line and have noticed they pretty much know exactly where the marine protected area lines are.”
Preliminary data from the Fish and Wildlife Department reflect the focus on enforcement. In 2012, wardens gave six misdemeanor tickets for illegally fishing in county marine protected areas.
Misdemeanors carry up to a $1,000 fine, with the possibility of a maximum of six months in jail.
In 2013, there were 12 misdemeanors. Five less severe fines — the equivalent of a traffic ticket — were handed out. Most violations were issued in response to illegal fishing in La Jolla’s southern reserve.
Although enforcement is becoming more common, wardens don’t always turn to citations.
There were 73 warnings for fishing in the reserves last year. If illegal angling isn’t blatant, wardens have discretion over whether to issue citations, Hughan said.
Compared to other parts of the state, Hughan said there haven’t been large-scale poaching busts in San Diego in the past two years.