San Francisco D.A. sues fisherman for nearly $1 million for ‘egregious’ illegal crabbing

Fresh Dungeness crabs fill a tank
The San Francisco district attorney’s office filed a lawsuit last week against a commercial fisherman accused of fishing in protected waters and trapping nearly 300 Dungeness crabs.
(Eric Risberg / Associated Press)

The San Francisco district attorney’s office filed a lawsuit last week against a man accused of trapping nearly 300 Dungeness crabs in protected waters.

Tam Van Tran, a licensed commercial fisherman, allegedly set more than 90 traps in protected waters near the Farallon Islands off the coast of San Francisco, officials said. The D.A.’s office seeks nearly $1 million in fines against Tran.

Prosecutors called the illegal fishing “the most egregious case of unlawful crabbing activity in San Francisco’s history, as well as the largest incident of documented unlawful commercial crabbing in any Marine Protected Area in California.”

The Farallon Islands are part of a state marine reserve, the most protected category of waters under the state’s Marine Life Protection Act, through which “the taking of any marine resource is prohibited by law,” prosecutors wrote in the complaint filed last week.


“The State Marine Reserves near the Farallon Islands safeguard a wide variety of significant marine life important to the people of California,” Dist. Atty. Chesa Boudin said in a news release. “Crabbing and fishing in these waters is illegal, and my office will hold violators accountable for the harm they cause to this cherished part of San Francisco for their own financial gain.”

California Department of Fish and Wildlife authorities were alerted to the traps last year through an anonymous report by another fisherman, according to the complaint.

In February 2021, a Fish and Wildlife patrol boat found 92 traps reportedly belonging to Tran with approximately 260 Dungeness crabs inside.

When contacted by Department of Fish and Wildlife authorities, Tran admitted to having the traps in the area but said he did not know that the waters were restricted, prosecutors wrote.

L.A. residents who aren’t included in the city’s composting pilot program will have to wait until it expands. Here’s what you can do in the meantime.

May 31, 2022

Officials informed Tran not move his traps during their investigation and continued to locate and pull up traps and return crabs to the ocean over the course of several days.

However, Fish and Wildlife authorities found that nearly two dozen traps had allegedly been removed after Tran was told to leave them alone.

The suit comes weeks after all Dungeness crab fishing zones off the California coast were closed to protect humpback whales during their migrating season. The Farrallon Islands are important areas for blue and humpback whale migrations, prosecutors said.

The closures were prompted after numerous humpback whales became entangled in Dungeness crab traps, which lie on the ocean floor and are tied to buoys.

According to prosecutors, the Dungeness crab industry in California was worth more than $30 million in 2020.