Encinitas north County
Moonlight State Beach. Photo credit: @CityofEncinitas, via Facebook

A San Diego County judge has fined an Oceanside charter company for taking patrons fishing within a Marine Protected Area near Encinitas, state officials announced.

It was the first implementation of increased commercial poaching penalties under Assembly Bill 2369, authored by former San Diego Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher.

AB 2369, which covers illegal activity in California’s MPAs, went into effect in January 2019.

Wildlife officers aboard a California Department of Fish and Wildlife patrol boat in December 2020 were patrolling the Swami’s State Marine Conservation Area in the waters off Moonlight State Beach, acting on a tip regarding illegal fishing.

The crew spotted a commercial passenger fishing vessel, the Electra, on their radar and their Automatic Identification System in the northwest corner of the conservation area.

As the patrol boat approached the Electra, wildlife officers noticed passengers reeling in lines and keeping fish. After boarding the vessel for an inspection, the officers documented fishing activity and cited the vessel’s captain for fishing in Swami’s.

The Electra is owned by Helgren’s Sportfishing, based out of Oceanside Harbor.

In November, the company, through owner Joseph Helgren, pleaded guilty to a violation of Fish and Game Code section 12012.5, resulting in a fine of $5,000 and an order to stay out of the Swami’s conservation area for one year.

“We hope the Electra case disposition will send a message that commercial fishing in an MPA will be stopped by wildlife officers and will result in substantial fines,” said David Bess, Deputy Director and Chief of the Law Enforcement Division, in the state’s fish and wildlife department.

Fines for violations of the law range from $5,000 to $40,000, with the possibility of up to a year in jail. With subsequent violations, potential fines rise to $50,000.