A complex investigation that included river stake-outs, videotaping, undercover work and the implanting of microscopic ID tags into the tails of hatchery trout all contributed to the arrest and conviction of a N. California restaurateur for a string of fishing violations.
Larry Baker, Sr. pled guilty in January to charges of unlawful take of trout, unlawful sale of trout, illegal fish in an eating establishment and littering, all violations of the California Fish and Game Code. He was ordered to pay $5,323 in restitution, sentenced to 30 days in jail, placed on probation and banned from fishing in California for three years.
During a four-month surveillance and undercover operation by the California Fish and Game Department in 2007, Baker was observed exceeding the daily limit of trout from the Sacramento River and then selling them at his restaurant—The River Café–in downtown Dunsmuir.
Joe Powell, the Mount Shasta area game warden who led the investigation into Baker’s illegal fishing activities, worked with a fisheries biologist to implant coded wire tags into the tails of about 300 hatchery trout. The micro-wire detectors contain data and are normally used to track the movement of fish in specific rivers and streams.
In this case, the detectors were placed in the tails instead of the heads, because the restaurant fish were being prepared and served headless.
The tagged fish were then released in two river locations where Baker had been observed exceeding the limit.
Then the stakeout began in earnest.
“At that time of year, the river is planted once a week so we staked out the two locations for three days in a three week period,” Powell told the Mt. Shasta News. “When other people were around, Baker would catch his five-trout limit and take them to the restaurant and go back later to a different spot. When no one was around, he would catch his limit, put them in a plastic bag and place them in the trunk of his vehicle and go back and catch five more and do the same thing.”
As another vital component of the elaborate investigation, two game wardens from outside the local area went undercover to visit Baker’s restaurant and order trout dinners. They politely requested doggie bags for their leftovers (in which they deposited the fish tails).
A short distance from the café, the two met up with Powell, who used a portable detector to confirm that the micro tags were indeed contained in the contents of the bags. A search warrant was issued and a subsequent search of the kitchen uncovered additional tagged trout.
To complete the investigation, seized receipts and invoices showed that Baker’s River Café spent $36.72 for the entire year to purchase trout, while at least 60 rainbow dinners had been served during that time.
You might say that with all the evidence obtained by the thoroughness of Powell and his fellow officers, the owner of the River Café found himself up a creek.
A tip of the fishing hat to them all for a job well done!