Abalone poacher on Mendocino Coast sent to prison

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A Sacramento man was sentenced Friday to state prison for poaching abalone on the Mendocino Coast, a rare punishment for the crime.

Dung Van Nguyen, 41, was sentenced to 32 months in state prison and taken into custody, Mendocino County Deputy District Attorney Tim Stoen said.

Nguyen, a previously convicted abalone poacher, pleaded guilty in September to a misdemeanor count of poaching abalone for commercial purposes and a felony count of falsifying an abalone report card. In doing so, he admitted to falsely claiming he had not taken any abalone on an original abalone report card in order to obtain a duplicate card, said Stoen, who files a majority of the county’s abalone cases as a coast-based prosecutor.

Stoen said he’s sent just three other people to prison for abalone poaching-related crimes in Mendocino County because poaching alone — even in egregious cases — is just a misdemeanor.

Three Bay Area residents accused of taking 59 abalone for commercial purposes last month face only misdemeanor charges, he noted.

The per-person daily limit on abalone is three. The annual limit is 18.

Stoen said it is difficult to get felony charges filed against poachers. It requires convictions either for filing false documents, as in Nguyen’s case, or conspiracy to take abalone for commercial purposes, Stoen said.

Abalone poaching is a major problem on the Mendocino Coast.

“It’s a scarce resource. It’s terrible when these people just come up here and abuse it,” District Attorney David Eyster said during a recent interview.

Stoen said he filed 313 abalone poaching cases last year.

Some of the cases resulted in lifetime fishing bans and large fines for the defendants. Eighteen abalone poachers arrested in a black market sting last year recently were ordered to pay more than $139,000 in fines. Eleven were given lifetime bans from fishing, according to Fish and Wildlife officials.

Stoen commended state Fish and Wildlife officials for their efforts to halt abalone poachers. But he’d like to see their hard work result in harsher penalties to better deter the crime.

“They should definitely be made more strict,” Stoen said of the penalties.

You can reach Staff Writer Glenda Anderson at 462-6473 or glenda.anderson@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @MendoReporter

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