SAN FRANCISCO — Catching undersize Dungeness crabs is a crime, and it’s no defense to claim you didn’t know they were too small. But it’s not much of a crime, a San Francisco appellate panel said, and the penalty must be modest as well – not a fine that ate up a commercial fisherman’s profit for the day.
In a ruling published Friday as a precedent for future cases, the Appellate Division of San Francisco Superior Court upheld Tim Estes’ misdemeanor conviction for hauling in too many crabs below the legal minimum size, but overturned a judge’s $47,000 forfeiture order and said Estes must be resentenced.
Estes, a Fort Bragg (Mendocino County) resident, has operated a crab boat for more than 20 years, piloting the vessel and directing placement of crab pots but leaving the measurement of crabs to his crew.
After taking in about 44,000 pounds of Dungeness crabs in offshore waters one day in November 2010, he was told by state Fish and Game wardens that some appeared to be below the minimum breadth of 6 1/4 inches, a level set by state law to help preserve the species.
After measurements in which Estes cooperated, the wardens found that crabs weighing 991 pounds, or 2.2 percent of the total, were undersize, and returned them to San Francisco Bay. Estes was charged with violating a law against catching more than 1 percent undersize crabs in any single haul.
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