San Francisco Bay shark habitat to get $1.5 million
Fisherman near Stinson Beach inadvertantly catch a bottom feeding
leopard shark. The edible triakis
semifasciata was safely returned to the shallow bay unharmed.
By Matt Wynkoop, Bay City News Service
February 14, 2007
The U.S. Attorney's Office announced Tuesday that $1.5 million
in funds have been assembled for California leopard shark habitat
restoration in the San Francisco Bay.
The announcement comes in the wake of a widespread Federal investigation
that led to the July indictment of several members of a San Leandro
church who were convicted for spearheading a Bay Area-based international
leopard shark poaching operation.
According to United States Attorney Kevin Ryan, the money will
come from a partnership formed to rehabilitate the affected San
Francisco Bay habitats through local donations and restitution
payments from the convicted poachers.
United States Attorney Kevin Ryan
Ryan said $910,000 has been assembled from payments by San Leandro-based
Bay Area Family Church, restitution by the church's pastor, Kevin
Thompson, and five other criminal defendants who were involved
in the operation.
The involved individuals poached thousands of California leopard
sharks from the San Francisco Bay over a period of more than ten
years, according to Ryan.
Thompson - who is slated to pay $100,000 in restitution - led
the scheme from 1992-2004. Members of Thompson's church used church
vessels to illegally harvest undersized sharks from the bay and
then sell the sharks throughout the United States and abroad,
Ryan reported that the Holy Spirit Association for the Unification
of World Christianity, which includes Bay Area Family Church,
would dole out $500,000 of the $910,000 in restoration funds.
"The prosecution of this case casts a bright light on the
dark world of illegal worldwide trading in protected wildlife,''
said Paul Chang,
Special Agent in charge of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Office of Law Enforcement.
In addition, $300,000 from the California Coastal Conservancy
and $300,000 through the combined contributions of the David and
Lucile Packard Foundation, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation
and the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation were designated Tuesday
for the planned habitat restoration.
The investigation into the poaching operation began in Miami
in 2003, when a pet trade distributor was caught with 18 undersized
leopard sharks from California, Ryan reported.
The investigation eventually led back to the Bay Area.
California leopard sharks area commonly found in ocean waters
along the Oregon, California and Baja Mexico coasts. The sharks
were afforded extra protection under state law in 1994 when the
Department of Fish and Game put a commercial fishing limit of
36 inches on the species.
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