By Garvin Thomas
Call them Good Samaritans in SCUBA gear.
Or, perhaps, wet-suited crime fighters.
Either way, members of a Scotts Valley SCUBA club, lead by a San Jose diver, helped the California Department of Fish and Wildlife catch a pair of fish poachers in Pacific Grove last month thanks, in part, to a mile-and-a-half, slow-speed, wet-suited, chase.
"It must have looked ridiculous," says Bill Shephard, the lead chaser.
The story begins at Lover's Point in Pacific Grove the afternoon of August 24th. Shephard, along with a dozen-or-so members of the SCUBA Squad, a club made of up divers associated with the Pro Scuba Dive Center, were just finishing up their second of two dives in a protected area of Monterrey Bay.
Club member Teagan Trautwein, whose job it was that day to stay on shore and look after fellow divers, was the first to notice something amiss.
"There were all these dead fish attached to a float," Teagan recalls. She then noticed two men emerging from the water carrying spearguns. She immediately signaled Bill, who had just surfaced himself, to investigate.
Bill approached the two men, letting them know they had been catching fish in a protected area where spearfishing was prohibited. "Their attitude seemed to be 'whatever'," Bill says.
"There are big signs all around that say that," Teagan says, "it's not like you can miss (it)."
Bill suggested to Teagan that she begin taking pictures with her phone while he called the DFW to report the poachers.
"By that time they knew we were on to them," Teagan says, "so they started packing up and walking toward the parking lot."
Bill followed the two men, hoping to get a look at their license plate, but the pair didn't stop in the lot. "They continued walking up 16th Avenue." Bill decided the best course of action was to follow them at a safe distance.
What ensued was a half-an-hour, slow-speed chase through the streets of downtown Pacific Grove. Two men carrying spearguns and a bag of dead fish in front, Bill in the rear. All wearing wetsuits.
"It would have given you pause to go, 'What?!'" Bill laughs.
Apparently trying to throw Bill off their trail, the pair of poachers split up at one point, but he stuck with one of them.
Perhaps sensing the inevitability of his capture, that diver ended up heading back to Lover's Point, his truck, and a warden waiting to write him a citation.
"He thanked us," Bill says, "and said they fine for poaching was $500 per fish. They had ten fish. That's $5,000."
Both Bill and Teagan say it is their love of Monterrey Bay and the aquatic diversity under its waters that moved them to act. "We are supposed to be stewards of what we have," Bill says. "Protect it."
They are also proud of how all the members of the SCUBA Squad performed that day. Both in, and out of the water. Video.