Two Southern California fisherman are in hot water over allegations they swiped fish caught by other fishermen and sold it as their own -- some of it at the popular Hollywood Farmers Market.
John Wilson, 53, of Santa Ynez and Kai Griffin, 23, of Buellton were arrested Sunday in connection with the thefts after a two-month long investigation by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife revealed they were allegedly stealing rock crabs from the Santa Barbara Harbor.
Officials are calling it an act of "pure greed."
“They wanted more money and cash on the side,” department spokesman Andrew Hughan said.
Wilson, of Sea Fever Seafood, was a popular vendor at the Hollywood Farmers Market and had been there for the past five years.
The most recent post on Sea Fever Seafood's Facebook page on March 29 said they would be at the market the following day with "ALASKAN HALIBUT, SANTA BARBARA RIDGEBACK SHRIMP, LIVE STONE CRAB & CLAWS, WILD COHO SALMON AND MORE." It continued, "We look forward to seeing you there!"
His alleged actions were not taken likely by SEE LA, the organization that oversees the market.
“This allegation, among others, has been more than enough for us to permanently revoke his (privilege) to sell at our market,” market managers James Haydu and Alexandra R. Agajanian said in a written statement. “This is an unfortunate example of how trust becomes compromised within the community of chefs and customers who patronized his booth weekly.”
Wilson has since been kicked out of the market.
The investigation started with an anonymous tip and several reports from commercial fisherman within the harbor, who claimed their rock crabs and other fish had gone missing.
Hughan, who has worked with the department for four years, said this was the first crime of this kind he's seen.
“It’s fairly common where sport divers will steal lobsters and crabs out of traps,” he said. “What’s unusual about this case is that one commercial fisherman is accused of stealing from other commercial fishermen in the same harbor he fished.”
Attempts to reach Wilson were not returned by the time of publication. However, someone on the Facebook page for the Sea Fever Seafood company posted a message defending both men.
“Sadly I have seen manipulative jealous competitors set upanother person in the harbor to get them in trouble. This has gone way beyond anything I've ever seen,” the post read." I have seen and watched these two men work with the upmost integrity."
Both men have been charged in a grand theft conspiracy. Hughan said they could face additional charges in connection with selling out-of-season fish, including sea urchins and welks.