Hundreds of trophy trout stolen from San Joaquin Fish Hatchery

FRESNO, Calif.

Hatchery Manager Greg Paape tells us; "This is the first theft of this type in state history. We've had problems in the past with people trying to take a fish or two maybe a net full, but fish in the hundreds just hasn't happened."

Paape says it looks like a group of at least three people broke through the fences surrounding the hatchery last Sunday and hauled off at least two hundred large trout.

"These were our biggest fish, they were slated for /*Shaver Lake*/, the /*Kings River*/, and the /*San Joaquin River*/ as part of our Trophy fish program."

Thieves used metal grates found in the hatchery to push the fish together. They had to cut down a section of the netting that shields the fish from birds, using it as a fishing net, to haul them out. It wasn't an easy job, and dozens of fish died from the stress of the clumsy roundup.

It's a tough loss for those like Ron Samra, whose job is to take care of these fish.

"I know my crew feels violated," said Samra. "Because it's three years of hard work to get them to this size."

The thieves hauled their illegal catch out in ice chests into a vehicle. Fish and Game Wardens and the Highway Patrol are investigating the theft. They believe the five hundred or so pounds of trout worth 5 to 7 dollars a pound is being sold.

Paape said; "I'm guessing a fish market or a restaurant, it's way too much fish for home consumption, so it's someone that's connected in the fish business of some sort."

The theft means fishermen like Greg Perez, who was trying his luck on the San Joaquin River just downstream from the hatchery will miss some big ones.

Greg Perez: "I think it's horrible. As far as the rest of us are out here paying for our fishing licenses and those fees aren't exactly cheap, we're doing it the honest way and somebody goes in and does it the criminal way, which isn't fair to the rest of us."

The authorities are investigating fish markets and restaurants and asking the public for help, If you notice an unusually good deal on trout for example, you might call the Highway Patrol, or the Department of Fish and Game.

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