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Feature Article: Abalone Poachers

Three abalone poachers hit with heavy fines, other penalties

Special to Western Outdoor NewsPublished: Feb 09, 2018

UKIAH — The Mendocino County District Attorney's Office has settled three major abalone poaching cases involving Fort Bragg, Sacramento and Bay Area abalone poachers, the DFW announced.

Two of the settled cases resulted in hefty fines and other penalties for restaurant owners:


— Steven Yuan Qin Liang, 47, of Fort Bragg pled guilty to felony conspiracy involving the purchase and black market sales of sport-caught abalone for personal profit. Liang, owner of the Asian Buffet restaurant in Fort Bragg, was ordered to serve 360 days in the Mendocino County Jail, placed on probation for 36 months and ordered to pay a fine of $15,000. He is prohibited from obtaining a sport or commercial fishing license for life.


— Bryant Chiu Shiu Lee, 44, of Sacramento, pled guilty to a misdemeanor charge of purchasing abalone for black market resale. Lee, owner of the Sushi Café in Sacramento, was placed on probation for 36 months and ordered to pay a fine of $40,000. He is prohibited from obtaining a sport or commercial fishing license for life.


Liang and Lee were both convicted in late 2017, following a joint investigation by the DFW Special Operations Unit and Mendocino Coast squad that began in June 2015.


In the third case, the strange circumstances surrounding an emergency rescue led to an investigation and eventual conviction.


— Justin Joseph Adams, 44, of Alameda, pled guilty to charges of conspiracy and taking abalone for black market sale. He was ordered to serve 210 days in the Mendocino County Jail, was placed on probation for 36 months and was ordered to pay a fine of $15,000. He is also prohibited from obtaining a sport or commercial fishing license for life.


His case was fascinating: Adams had been dropped off by a friend the day before at the headlands just north of Cuffy's Cove in Elk. He climbed down a steep cliff to the water's edge and harvested abalone during low tide, but when the tide returned, his return route was blocked. When he failed to appear at a pre-determined pick-up location, a friend called in a missing persons report. Rescuers found Adams stranded on the side of a steep cliff and extracted him around 2 a.m.


The day after the rescue, DFW Lt. Joel Hendricks and Warden Don Powers donned wetsuits and swam to the location below where Adams was rescued to look for evidence of poaching. In a deep cut under the bluff, directly under the location of Adams' rescue, they found two bags containing 38 abalone.


One of the bags also contained a half-consumed plastic bottle of water. After obtaining a DNA sample from Adams via a search warrant, they sent the sample and the water bottle to the California Department of Justice Forensics Laboratory. The lab matched the DNA evidence from the bottle to Adams.