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John's Journal... Entry 251, Day 3


Reef Violations

Click to enlargeEditor's Note: As you know, salt-water fishing has a numberof size limits, bag limits and restrictions. But do you know who enforces these laws? Who keeps the commercial fishermen, the netters, the oystermen and the recreational fishermen from breaking the law, taking too many fish and/or fishing in closed areas? In my home state of Alabama and many other states, the Enforcement Division of the Marine Resources Department of the state's Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) has this responsibility. To learn more about who the fish cops are, what they do, and why they are important to all of us, I went on patrol with them in coastal areas recently at night and during the day. I learned that they have some of the most-sophisticated surveillance equipment of any law enforcement agency. Besides radar, they have night-vision binoculars and other devices to spot and track law violators. They also do drug enforcement, health-department enforcement and immigration enforcement and are cross-trained with many state and federal agents. This week we'll meet Alabama's fish cops, the Alabama Marine Resources Enforcement Division (AMRED), and learn what they do.

PHILLIPS: Salt-water fishermen in Alabama can sink reef material to build artificial reefs out in the Gulf of Mexico. What constitutes an illegal reef?
KORNEGAY: To be able to sink a reef in state or federal waters, that reef has to be permitted by Alabama's Marine Resources. Before we permit a reef, we inspect it and make sure it has no pollutants, and that it will stay secure to the bottom and not wash up onshore. Once we have inspected the reef, we attach a permit to it. Any reef material that hasn't been inspected and does not have the permit attached to it is an illegal reef. We have had several violations of people bringing out unpermitted reef material and attempting to sink it. For instance, last year we caught a fisherman with a reef on his boat that had four separate violations. Each violation carried a $5,000 Fine. So, by not having his reef inspected and permitted, that fisherman could potentially pay $20,000 for attempting to put out an illegal reef. We work with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Coast Guard to make sure that nothing is put on the bottom of the Gulf that will in any way create a hazard for boats or ships or that will potentially wash inshore and create a problem for shrimpers or swimmers. Our reef regulations were developed in conjunction with these federal agencies so that we can protect everyone who uses the Gulf.

Click to enlargePHILLIPS: What kind of reef materials have washed up on the beach before?
KORNEGAY: Small boats that weren't secured to the bottom, washing machines, clothes dryers and other white goods have washed up on the beach. These types of reefs have been banned. Today we are seeing more and more reefs being built from hard-wire chicken coops. They are usually set in concrete and because the water can flow through them, when we have a storm surge, they usually won't move off the bottom. These chicken-coop reefs provide plenty of hiding places for the young snapper and other game fish, and they attract
baitfish for the smaller fish to eat, but when large predator fish move in, the young snapper and other fishes can swim inside the chicken coop and have protection.

PHILLIPS: How many artificial reefs do you believe are on the bottom near Orange Beach, Alabama?
KORNEGAY: Alabama has the largest artificial-reef-building program in the nation. If I had to guess, I would bet there are 10,000 or more man-made, artificial reefs off the coast of Alabama. These reefs are the reason we have such a tremendous salt-water fishery. Many of these reefs have been planted by the state and federal governments, but we also have a huge number of reefs that have been built by private individuals and companies. We have bridge rubble, several "Liberty" ships, 100 de-commissioned tanks, outdated voting machines, dry docks, pipes, several airplanes, boats and quite a few bridge pilings, just to name a few reefs you will find out in the Gulf.

PHILLIPS: As I was doing my interview, a boat passed by in the night that had no running lights. The officers quickly gave chase and within about a mile or two we found the boat stopped in shallow water. Officer Pose boarded the boat, wrote a citation and then got back on our boat. I asked Pose for what type violation he had written a ticket.
POSE: The boat was a commercial netters boat. This is a net fisherman we have checked several times before, and it seems as if every time we check him, he will have a different violation. This time he had no running lights. The last time we stopped this netter, we wrote him a citation for an improperly marked gill net, and he had no fire extinguisher on the boat and no kill switch, and he had improper personal flotation devices. When I asked the fisherman if he knew his running lights weren't working, he admitted that he knew that the lights weren't working when he left the launch. But, he said he was trying to fix the lights on the way to the place where he was going to set out his nets because a friend had called and told him there were a lot of fish in this particular area.

PHILLIPS: Why are running lights so important?
POSE: You would be surprised, but there are a lot of boats out here at night. You need to be able to see those boats and the other boaters need to be able to see you to prevent an accident. A gill netter without a light is an accident waiting to happen, because if he doesn't have a light, you can't see where his gill net has been placed, and there is a real good chance you could get that net in your prop. You could also hit a boat if you didn't know the boat was there. So, lights at night are very important from a safety standpoint.

PHILLIPS: What do you usually check for on the night patrol?
POSE: Usually on night patrol,AMRED checks shrimp boats, night speckled trout fishermen and charter boats coming in from a 12- or an 18-hour bottom fishing trip for snapper and amberjack and other bottom fish.



Check back each day this week for more about FISH COPS: THE WATCHDOG OF THE MARINE RESOURCES ...

Day 1 - What Is AMRED?
Day 2 - Check For Drugs
Day 3 - Reef Violations
Day 4 - Lady Fish Cops
Day 5 - Heidi Lofton, The Other Lady Cop

John's Journal