Thursday, July 6, 2000
Peering through his binoculars, game warden John Ewald spies two figures three parking lots down plucking something from between the rocks and placing that something into a bright blue plastic bag. To confirm his suspicions, Ewald takes a closer look through his telescope. Aha! Just as he thought. The pair are stripping black turban snails from their rocky, watery habitat.
Ewald moves his truck to the turnout nearest the culprits and stealthily parks behind another truck. He watches for a few more minutes, then heads down to the beach to confront the takers. By the time he approaches the poaching pair, they have returned to their group, who is setting up a picnic on the rocky beach. As the imposing Ewald approaches, a member of the group slips the blue plastic bag behind the barbecue.
Ewald identifies himself as a game warden with the California Department of Fish and Game. Here, in the Pacific Grove Marine Gardens Fish Refuge, he explains to the group, taking animals out of the tide pools is against state law.
"You are not the police," charges one of the group, who identifies himself as a college professor. "Oh, yes I am," Ewald assures him. He asks for the plastic bag. Inside it rest 81 black turban snails, perhaps intended to accompany lunch. In some cultures, the boiled snails are considered a tasty treat.
"They didn''t know it was against the law," insists the professor, but Ewald doesn''t buy it. After a lecture, he issues one of the takers a citation, which could carry a fine up to $1,000, and returns the snails to the water.
This scenario is not unusual, Ewald says. While a study recently conducted by Hopkins Marine Station students shows only 1 percent of tide pool tourists take anything from these shores, that 1 percent can add up; Ewald says he''s seen ice chests filled with thousands of snails. On weekends, when hundreds of visitors flock to Point Pinos, Ewald catches people stripping critters from the rocky Point Pinos tide pools all the time.
Many of them, whom Ewald calls "inadvertent poachers," don''t know it''s against the law. Tourists innocently fill up their beach pails with sand and rocks and critters to take home as keepsakes.
Then there are the hard-core poachers. They know it''s illegal to take, but they do it anyway, taking home sea animals to eat or sell. Poachers that fall into this category will often use tools and are accompanied by lookouts, who warn the collectors of an approaching game warden or police officer.
Later on Sunday, Ewald spots another group collecting illegally, a family filling their colorful plastic pails with tide pool goodies. Ewald approaches the husband and wife with two pre-teen girls, and politely asks to look in their buckets. The family, tourists from Sacramento, has gathered some sand and a handful of hermit crabs. Ewald explains to them that it''s illegal to take the crabs out of these tide pools. "Hundreds of people visit these tide pools everyday. Can you imagine if everyone took home a critter? There''d be nothing left," he tells them.
The embarrassed family assures him they will return their catch immediately, and Ewald spares them the ticket.