Fish and Game sting nets 3 in Fort Bragg, Bodega Bay captain

By Michael Coit
The Santa Rosa Press Democrat
August 20, 2002

State Fish and Game wardens on Monday arrested a Bodega Bay fishing boat captain and his deckhand on suspicion of exceeding limits on fish and other violations, culminating a year-long undercover operation targeting operators from San Diego to Fort Bragg.

Rick Powers, 48, who operates the New Sea Angler out of Bodega Bay, was one of 14 boat owners arrested as part of "Operation Near Shore," including three out of Fort Bragg.

Also arrested was his deckhand, Atsushi Yamashita, said warden Bob Aldrich, part of the team of state game wardens and federal fisheries agents who conducted the operation.

The names of those arrested in Fort Bragg were unavailable.

Powers and Yamashita were being held at the Sonoma County Jail after being booked on suspicion of felony conspiracy and numerous misdemeanor charges. Powers' bail was set at $100,000 and Yamashita's at $75,000.

The undercover operation was prompted by complaints from party boat passengers who said operators encouraged them to take more fish than allowed, keep undersized fish, use more hooks than allowed and commit similar unlawful acts, including wounding pelicans and seals.

"It's the first time we've done something like this," Aldrich said. "We picked out the worst ones we heard about. It's taken us a year to just do 14 boats, and we needed to bring some closure to this and get the message out to the public. I hope that if there's things going on with boats we haven't checked, that they understand we're looking at them."

Aldrich also noted that 14 boats is only a small number of the 408 party boats operating out of California.

"We're not indicting the entire business," he said.

Those arrested also were distinguished from lawful operators in that they didn't keep accurate logs reporting the number of people fishing on boats and the number and species caught, Aldrich said.

"That's how they monitor the fish," said Chuck Wise, president of the Fishermen's Marketing Association in Bodega Bay. Commercial fishermen "catch so much less than what a good party boat gets and it has a big effect on the resource."

Salmon, rockfish and ling cod were the affected fish.

Wardens posing as sport fishermen went out on the boats and witnessed the violations, Aldrich said.

In one of the worst violations, a fisherman on one boat took 105 rockfish even though the limit is 10, Aldrich said.

Fishermen who pay to fish from sport fishing party boats were not arrested because they rely on operators to help them do things legally, Aldrich said.

In fact, it was people paying to fish from boats that made the issue a priority for regulators.

"Some were concerned about the resource. Others were upset that they were basically directed to violate the law," Aldrich said.

Operators might have been motivated by a desire to send every customer home with legal limits of fish, Aldrich said.

Wise was stunned by Powers' arrest, saying he has known Powers for more than a decade and was unaware of any complaints against him.

"We know it goes on. But I'm surprised. I'm glad to see them enforcing the law," he said.

The marketing association helps set prices and lobbies on behalf of commercial fishermen and does not represent sport fishermen.