Three Fresno men had their fishing licenses permanently revoked as punishment for illegally catching striped bass and selling them by the hundreds on the black market, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife announced.
Kue Her, 36, Leepo Her, 33, and Michael Vang, 31, were sentenced July 11 after pleading guilty to illegal poaching of wildlife for profit. They were given credit for time served in jail.
Cases of illegally catching and selling sport fish are not rare, but the Fresno case is notable for the number of violations and the amount of fish trafficked on the black market, said California Fish and Wildlife spokesman Patrick Foy.
“These guys represent some of the more egregious poachers we have seen in the last few years,” he said.
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State officials hope that a lifetime fishing license revocation will deter others, he said.
It took a year of tracking the three men, especially at the California Aqueduct and San Luis Reservoir where fisherman go for striped bass, to put the case together, said Lt. Doug Barnhart in the Fresno law enforcement division office.
When they were busted in a raid in December 2016, fish and wildlife officers not only found frozen striped bass but live wild crappie and bluegill in an aquarium, as well as marijuana, methamphetamines and evidence of illegal drug sales.
Finding illegal drugs in poaching cases is common, the department said.
Poaching is a serious problem because of potential damage to the environment, Barnhart said.
Illegal poaching impacts the numbers of fish and mammals, and it’s hard to recover from years of poaching.
Lt. Doug Barnhart, California Department of Fish and Wildlife
“Resources are a precious commodity,” he said. “Illegal poaching impacts the numbers of fish and mammals, and it’s hard to recover from years of poaching.”
Fish poaching cases often involve striped bass and sturgeon, and many animal poaching cases involve deer and bears, he said.
The Fresno striped bass case started in November 2015 when a state fish and wildlife officer stopped to check on the three men as they were fishing, and they told the officer they had not caught any fish.
But he looked in a trash can and found a dead fish, so he checked their licenses and saw that a previous officer had written fish and game code violation numbers onto their licenses. He inspected a backpack and found they were over limit of two striped bass per person.
Because they had been cited before, the officer started investigating and learned they were selling the fish as well as catching more fish than allowed and taking undersized fish, Barnhart said.
“These guys were making thousands of dollars a month selling striped bass,” he said.
Barnhart, a fish and wildlife officer for 14 years, said this is the largest poaching case he has worked on.
People of all backgrounds break fish and wildlife laws, he said.
Locally, fish and wildlife officials have provided information about rules and regulations to Hmong publications and radio and believe the outreach has been effective, he said.
Fresno County prosecutor Sabrina Ashjian was active in the case from the beginning and was named the 2016 Wildlife Prosecutor of the Year by the California Fish and Game Commission.