I don't know if this has made it on here yet, and I know its a long article...butttttt......Key in on the 99 Stripers porttion
Spruill tied his 25 -foot, rigid-hull boat to the gunwale of a gleaming white Parker fishing boat crewed by three anglers in search of a bite. "Do you have any weapons on board other than your filet knives, sir?" shouted Alex Verdecia , a petty officer. "No, sir," said James Ross of Virginia Beach , the Parker's skipper." We were just heading out to see if we could catch a few fish." With Spruill at the watch, Verdecia and reservist Shawn Crossan performed a routine boat safety inspection. After a few minutes, they gave Ross a gold-colored copy of the form. "Good as gold, we call it," Spruill said. "No violations. That's what we like to see." Spruill released the boat and throttled full-speed to the south. There, a growing number of fishing boats could be seen on the horizon. "That one went well,"Verdecia said. "The boat we board dictates how the boarding goes, not us. We're here to educate the public, not to harass them. "It's easy when they cooperate with us." But lots of times, it's not so easy for marine law enforcement agencies. It's striped bass season. There are lots of rules governing the species. Rules that are easily broken, knowingly and unknowingly. The Economic Exclusion Zone starts 3 miles off the coast. Under fisheries management rules, it is illegal to fish for or possess striped bass in the waters of the zone. But people do. When waters get colder than 40 degrees, or when a strong west wind pushes bait fish away from shore, stripers often head to deeper waters out past 3 miles. Unscrupulous anglers follow. It's no secret that many anglers break the rules. Jeff Randall , a Coast Guard lieutenant commander and an avid angler, saw it firsthand while off-duty recently. "We were fishing out of Oregon Inlet and we were inside 3 miles, catching bluefish and watching people outside catching all the rockfish they wanted,"Randall said. "We saw all their fish back at the docks."It's frustrating because you know what they're doing is wrong. But you know they're catching fish."
Several factors push some to break the laws regarding rockfish, which include catching more than two fish per person per day, or keeping any ocean fish less than 28 inches in length. Economics are a big factor, especially for charter captains. "They've got a boat full of paying customers, and they're under pressure to catch fish for these people," Randall said. "If they're on a boat that's abiding by the law, and they come back to the dock with no fish, what does the skipper say when the boat next to them is unloading lots of fish caught illegally? "For recreational anglers, it's mostly about peer pressure and ego." Law enforcement faces a much tougher challenge in catching illegal fishermen than the anglers do in avoiding getting caught. It's a big ocean out there. Budget restraints limit the number of hours officers can spend patrolling the zone. When VMRC Marine Police or the Coast Guard head out of Portsmouth , Little Creek Inlet or Rudee Inlet , somebody is always watching" and warning others. "Here they come, here comes the man," Randall said, mocking banter his officers often hear on their radios. "It's almost like they don't think we're listening." Although law officials are always listening, such a network of VHF radio and cell-phone conversations enables those breaking the Economic Exclusion Zone law to get back into legal waters quickly. Still, officers nab a few lawbreakers. According to the VMRC, its Marine Police in the last six weeks have issued six violation citations. Petty Officer Wade Hughes of the Coast Guard's Portsmouth District 5 Law Enforcement Division said his patrols have issued 10 EEZ violation citations in Virginia and North Carolina in the same time frame. Anglers are fined $50 per fish, for as many as 10 fish, when found in possession of rockfish over the line. If there are more than 10 fish, the matter goes to a federal judge, who can increase the fine. The fine also increases for additional violations. "But our guys don't know if it's a first, second or even a third violation when issuing the citation," Hughes said. "And the feds rarely ever catch that.? After law enforcement officers are done with their part of the process, they often can only watch while violators get slapped on the wrist. A recent case in Norfolk District Criminal Court has law enforcement officials ? and the majority of the angling community that abides by the rules ? scratching their heads. C.W. Beuchelt , a VMRC Marine Police officer, on Jan. 1 watched from a distance as two anglers caught striper after striper and put them in a cooler. Trouble was, the two were fishing inside the Chesapeake Bay , where the season was closed . They also were keeping undersized fish and considerably more than the limit of two per person. According to court records, Joseph A. Martinez of Lanexa and Jason D. St. Mary of Providence Forge were charged with nine violations that included fishing out of season, possession of undersized fish, possession of more than their limit, and various boat safety violations. The two had 99 stripers when caught. All but one were shorter than 18 inches. Most were shorter than 14 . On Jan. 20 , the two pleaded guilty to the misdemeanor charges. But all fines were suspended by Judge Gordon B. Tayloe Jr., who was substituting in the court that day. Because the men pleaded guilty, the officer who caught them wasn't even allowed to testify. Anglers are furious. 'For something so clearly grievous to just be dismissed, it's extremely frustrating," said Brian Hodson , a Norfolk angler. '' The frustration of the marine officers must be outrageous." On that recent January day, Spruill, Verdecia and Crossan continued their morning patrol when they came across a pair of Maryland-based dead-rise fishing boats heading back into Rudee Inlet. The crew decided to give the two vessels the once-over, instructing them by radio to head to port inside the inlet. "Captains, please keep all of your charters on the boat until we board," Spruill instructed on the radio. At that point, one of the vessels sped up and got in front of the other, rendering it invisible to the Coast Guardsmen. "They could be dumping," Verdecia said, referring to a practice of getting rid of any undersized or over-the-limit fish. "
It happens. But if we don't see it, there's nothing we can do." Verdecia and other law enforcement officers concede that most anglers, whether or not they agree with the rules, abide by fishing laws. I'd say 90 percent obey," said Col. Steve Bowman, chief of law enforcement for the VMRC. "We've got about 10 percent every year that don't. They're the ones we try to catch. "We wish that the recreation and commercial fishermen, who are the consumers of the resource, would just obey the law. "In the long run, the only ones they're damaging are themselves." Reach Lee at 757-222-5844 or [email protected]