Mark Willey was a popular figure in the Redondo Beach, Calif., fishing scene, always bringing fresh half-and-half to fellow fishermen for morning coffee and later chatting about the day’s catch at Captain Kidd’s fish market.
But for several years, the California Department of Fish and Game suspected Willey of illegally poaching lobsters from restricted areas in Santa Monica Bay, and last month authorities spent a night on an elaborate stakeout of his boat.
Early Monday, they came across Willey’s empty boat moving in circles off the coast of Hermosa Beach, with $2,000 worth of lobsters stacked in bins.
They pulled up a lobster trap from 70 feet below the surface and found Willey’s body, a rope tangled around his legs.
Authorities believe he was night fishing for lobster – which is illegal – and kept his lights off to avoid detection. They suspect he didn’t see that a rope was wrapped around his leg when he hoisted the trap into the water, and it pulled him overboard, reports the Los Angeles Times in a profile of the charismatic figure.