A Vallejo, California, commercial crabber could pay close to $1 million in fines and restitution for illegally taking more than 250 Dungeness crabs from the waters within the boundaries of the state’s protected North Farallon Island State Marine Reserve. 

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) was informed in early February 2022, by a law-abiding commercial crabber, of a commercial Dungeness crab trap located within reserve waters, according to a complaint filed by the San Francisco District Attorney. Off-limits to commercial crabbing, the marine reserve serves as vital habitat for migrating blue and humpback whales.

Upon investigation, CDFW agents found a string of 92 crab trap buoys in the southern portion of the reserve. As mandated by agency regulations, the buoys were marked with the commercial fishing license number of the owner—Tam Tran. Tran had obtained a permit for the crab traps back in December 2020, for that year’s crabbing season. 

Tran admitted to owning and placing the 92 traps but said he didn’t know the area was off-limits to crabbing and asked for leniency. CDFW agents were able to secure 70 of the traps and release 260 Dungeness crabs unharmed. The remaining 22 traps were allegedly retained by Tran. 

“This is the most egregious case of unlawful crabbing activity in San Francisco’s history, as well as the largest incident of unlawful commercial crabbing in any Marine Protected Area in the entire State of California,” the plaintiffs wrote in the lawsuit.

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According to the DA’s office, Tran had sold $60,750 worth of crab at the port of San Francisco in 2021. So far in 2022, he made more than $65,000 from the sale of crab. Tran is facing serious fines and one misdemeanor. The DA’s office is asking for $2,500 for each count of “unfair competition,”  which brings the accused’s total, for 365 allegations of illegal activity, to $912,500.