For crab poachers, Tunitas Creek Beach is often known as the place to go. There are limited access roads and the area carries a history of being poorly managed. That is, until recently. In January San Mateo County acquired the beach and extended enforcement to curb the taking of crab out of season.
At one point, people were taking hundreds of Dungeness in the evenings on a regular basis, according to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. But while officials say poaching has tailed off, it’s still an issue warranting enforcement from multiple agencies.
The CDFW has the primary responsibility for enforcing fish and wildlife laws in the state. However, state agents also work with the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office and San Mateo County Parks Department to issue citations for Dungeness crab being taken unlawfully at Tunitas Creek Beach.
“I think it’s still a problem,” said Supervisor County Park Ranger Greg Escoto. “Now they are used to us being around and they have found ways to go in when we are not there.”
The county purchased Tunitas Creek Beach for $3.2 million from the Peninsula Open Space Trust in January and has managed the property since 2017.
Poaching impacts the local crab population. During the off-season, which runs from about June to mid-November, female crab come closer to shore and bury in the sand to mate and lay their eggs. Poachers however, will take whatever they can grab.
“You are not allowed to capture the female because if you fish out all the female you do not have any opportunity for reproduction and the crabs have to be a certain size because you want the young to be able to mature,” said County Parks Communication Manager Carla Schoof. “So, if you are going against any of the tenants of crabbing, you will have an impact on the crab population.”
Schoof said that there’s been a greater law enforcement presence even before the county took over managing the property.
“And we stagger our patrols so they are not expected,” she said.
Sheriff’s deputies consider such enforcement part of their normal duties. Deputies have become well versed in the illegal taking of Dungeness crab at that location, according to CDFW spokesman Peter Tira.
“Primarily, the deputies contact individuals loitering at the beach when it is closed and find out that they are in possession of crabs illegally,” said Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Rosemerry Blankswade.
Citations are issued for people caught taking crab out of season. Cases will go through the district attorney’s office and likely result in some type of fine, according to Escoto.
Many times people will rack up multiple citations beyond just taking the crab out of season. Being in the park after hours and fishing without a license are other common citations.
Since the county’s acquisition of the property, signs have been installed stating the rules regarding crabbing. Escoto said that this year there have not been as many instances of crab poaching, but enforcement officers continue to monitor the area.
“It’s a lot better than it used to be since the county took over management,” said Lt. James Ober, a Fish and Wildlife game warden. There used to be hundreds of people on the beach during the evenings taking crab. Now, he said, it’s about 10 to 20 people.