Fisher Fined for Fudging Fish Counts

Written by Estero Bay News

March 14, 2024

The owner/operator of a sport fishing boat has settled a civil dispute with the State, agreeing to pay thousands for twice incorrectly counting fish catches.

According to the District Attorney’s Office, “Brad Leage, the operator of ‘The Endeavor,’ a commercial fishing party boat that takes customers out on sport fishing trips from Morro Bay Harbor, agrees to pay $12,000 in civil penalties and abide by fishing restrictions during the 2024 fishing season.”

The D.A.’s “Special Prosecution Unit” reportedly reached settlement in the “civil enforcement action,” which originated with an undercover operation by Fish & Wildlife game wardens, who went on two fishing trips aboard the Endeavor, which books trips out of Morro Bay Landing.

“In 2019 and 2021,” the news release said, “undercover CDFW officers participated in two sport fishing trips with Mr. Leage on the Endeavor. On both fishing trips, Mr. Leage admitted that he inaccurately reported the number of crew fishing on the trip and exceeded legal catch limits. Mr. Leage also admitted that some customers exceeded legal fish limits and caused the waste of fish.”

The case comes out of a heavily regulated industry. “Commercial fishing,” the D.A.’s Office said, “is a highly regulated business in California with a purpose to protect the long-term sustainability of California’s coastal ecosystems. Officers of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife [CDFW] are entrusted with protecting the state’s precious marine resources by patrolling and enforcing fishing laws along California’s 840-mile-long coastline.”

Under the settlement, Leage will have to pay the fine, and is required to, “accurately report the number of fish caught on board during sport fishing trips. Finally, the judgment prohibits the crew of the Endeavor from fishing on paid customer trips during the 2024 fishing season.”

The D.A.’s No. 2 in command said Fish & Wildlife needs the commercial fishers to self regulate the myriad of fishing rules and regulations.

“The California Department of Fish and Wildlife,” Assistant D.A. Eric Dobroth said, “rely upon commercial fishermen to accurately report fishing activities for the successful management of fisheries off our Central Coast. The opportunity to take fish and wildlife resources in California requires a high degree of mutual trust between the public and law enforcement. Commercial fishing regulations exist to ensure the health of our coastal ecosystems for the public’s continued enjoyment and for a sustainable commercial fishing industry.”

The case was also prosecuted criminally, Dobroth said, which brought in another requirement for The Endeavor’s skipper. “In the criminal case, Mr. Leage agreed to follow applicable commercial fishing laws for the next 12 months and comply with the terms of the stipulated civil judgment.”

In the complaint filed in court, the State claimed that, “Over the past five years, the Department has fished undercover with the Defendant on the Endeavor twice, including June 23, 2019, and Dec. 19, 2021.” The two wardens had gone out fishing without telling the captain or crew they were law enforcement officers.

Party boat captains must count the fish caught by the passengers, reporting the grand total catch as the “boat limit” of fish. 

Individually, each angler is allowed 10 rockfish per trip, but using the total fish caught allows someone who limits out quickly to keep fishing. Once ashore, the individual fisherman’s limit kicks in and no one can take home more than the legal limit of fish. 

Also, crew members are allowed to fish on these trips and their limits are counted in with the passengers’ limits, but their catch must be kept separate from the passengers’ fish. 

The crew is not allowed to give away fish. “Operators and crew members are also prohibited from giving all or part of their individual limit to any passenger during or after a trip,” reads the civil complaint.

The allegation was that the captain knew he was over the boat’s limit of fish. “On both occasions, Defendant was cited for taking and possession of more than the limit of rockfish, the waste of fish, and failing to keep accurate records of fishing activity.” 

Also, “On both occasions, Defendant reported in the records he submitted to the Department that crew had fished during the trips when on both accounts undercover officers confirmed crew did not catch any fish.”

The actual numbers of fish involved is pretty small. On the December 2021 trip, “A total of 17 rockfish were over limit and 29 rockfish were incorrectly reported to the Department as having been caught by the crew. Thirteen fish were thrown overboard dead.” 

It is illegal to land fish that are over the catch limit, therefore extra fish — normally the littlest ones — are thrown overboard.

As for the June 2023 trip, “A total of 45 rockfish were over the limit. Twenty-eight rockfish were incorrectly reported to the Department as having been caught by the crew. There was a waste of five fish, each thrown overboard from the Endeavor.”

State Department of Fish & Wildlife investigated the civil case and Dep. D.A. Attorney Kenneth Jorgensen of the D.A.’s Consumer and Environmental Protection Unit, prosecuted. Dep. D.A.’s Amy Fitzpatrick and Sean Baird prosecuted the criminal side of the matter.

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