On the morning of Aug. 24, Bill Shepherd, along with members of the Scuba Squad – a dive club affiliated with the Pro Scuba Dive Center in Scotts Valley – were coming up from a dive in the Lovers Point State Marine Reserve, when he said he was signaled by the outing's shore-based leader, Teagan Trautwein.
“She hollered down, 'Hey, look and see the fish on that buoy,'” he said.
Sure enough, Shepherd said, 10 rock cod were attached to a stringer – shot by spear fishermen inside the protected reserve.
Shepherd, who is himself an avid spearfisher, said that he approached the two spear fishermen as they surfaced and asked if they were aware they were in a protected area.
“They would have nothing to do with it,” he said of their response.
According to Shepherd, as soon as the duo realized that Trautwein had snapped photos of them in the reserve with the fish and contacted the authorities, they attempted to leave the scene before an officer of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife could arrive.
Stopping only to drop his gear, Shepherd then followed the men as they did not return to their vehicles, rather leading him on a soggy walk through Pacific Grove.
“It was kind of comical,” Shepherd said of walking nearly two miles in a wetsuit. “It was not a comfortable walk.”
By the time that the men had doubled back to the parking lot, Trautwein said, the Fish and Wildlife officer had arrived, and after seeing the photos she'd taken and statements from witnesses, issued the men $5,000 in citations – $500 per fish.
“They pretty much copped to what they did,” Shepherd said.
“It will probably be very expensive fish that they won't get to enjoy at all,” Trautwein said.
Shepherd said that, as a diver and fisherman, it is important that marine sanctuaries be respected.
“I want to see the fish stay,” he said, “so my fishing is still there for my kids and grandkids.”
Cheryl Babineau, co-owner of the Pro Scuba Dive Center, said that conservation and protection of marine life is stressed, not only at the dive club's meetings, but in the training that the center conducts. That includes reporting poaching incidents to Fish and Wildlife authorities.
“Without enough agents, we have to be the stewards,” she said.