Petaluma Diver Sentenced For Illegally Selling Abalone

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(CBS)

(CBS)

PETALUMA (CBS SF) — A Petaluma abalone poacher last week was sentenced to 90 days’ work release and fined $15,000 for selling the mollusks to a restaurant owner, who received a similar sentence for illegal purchase shortly after the arrests, the state Department of Fish and Game said Thursday.

Michael Sean Miller, 55, was also ordered on May 5 to forfeit all dive gear and fishing equipment after pleading guilty to illegal sale of sport-caught abalone. He is prohibited from possessing abalone in the future, Fish and Game spokesman Patrick Foy said.

In 2009, the restaurant owner, 51-year-old Pim Lim Szeto of San Francisco, was fined $20,000 and sentenced to 90 days’ work release for the illegal purchase of abalone. Both men lost their fishing licenses for life.

The state has banned the sale of sport-caught abalone because three of the four species found in California coastal waters are in decline, Fish and Game spokeswoman Alexia Retallack said. Aquaculture companies that raise abalone can sell it, though.

Anyone who dives for the highly sought-after seafood can only take 24 abalone per year—including at most three in a single day—and must register their take with the state.

“If you look at fine amounts and actual jail terms, you can see we take (abalone sales) very seriously,” Foy said. “When it gets out of hand, you see a decline in local abalone population.”

The investigation into Miller and Szeto, who owns the Pacific Restaurant at 1045 Terra Nova Blvd. in Pacifica, began in fall 2009 when California State Parks rangers made contact with Miller several times near Fisk Mill Cove in Sonoma County.

The rangers alerted the Department of Fish and Game, whose wardens observed Miller harvesting abalone and taking it to the rear entrance of the Pacific Restaurant, Roy said.

Investigators then reportedly watched Miller sell the abalone to Szeto.

(Copyright 2011 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Wire services may have contributed to this report.)

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