FISH COPS: THE WATCHDOG OF THE MARINE RESOURCES
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
TOMORROW: LADY FISH COPS