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High-tech gear helps reel in fish poachers
By Greg Latshaw, USA TODAY

A growing number of maritime agencies are waging high-tech battles with poachers illegally fishing the nation's waterways.

Poaching is an ongoing problem for the commercial marine fishing industry, which in 2009 was a $38.4 billion business, says Lesli Bales-Sherrod, a spokeswoman for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Office of Law Enforcement.

Poachers regularly target rockfish, salmon, oysters, scallops, lobsters, endangered sea turtles and other species, authorities say. The devices now being employed to stop them include infrared video cameras, Global Positioning System tracking devices and electronic fencing.

Since January, the Maryland Natural Resources Police has monitored the Chesapeake Bay region with four radar units and two infrared video cameras placed at confidential locations, says George Johnson, the NRP superintendent colonel.

Bales-Sherrod says her office investigated 9,662 fish incidents between 2007 and 2009 but the economic loss from poaching is difficult to calculate. Consumers can be affected in various ways. In some cases, low-value fish is mislabeled and sold as high-value fish, Bales-Sherrod says. Also, if fishers bring in more than their allowed amount, that can drive down the price for a species, she says.

"Without adequate enforcement, those willing to break the law not only potentially harm the resource, but also other hardworking fishermen who abide by the regulations needed to ensure the stocks are sustainable into the future," Bales-Sherrod says.

In February, Maryland NRP found 12.5 tons of rockfish in illegally anchored gill nets in the Chesapeake Bay. The discovery prompted the state to close the commercial rockfish fishery from Feb. 4 to Feb. 25.

Some states — Alaska, Maryland and Washington among them — require fishers to tag their catch, so if illegal products enter the marketplace, they can be traced to their origin, says Michael Hirshfield, the chief scientist for Oceana, a Washington-based group focused on ocean conservation and restoration.

"It's the coming thing," Hirshfield says. "As the technology for tracking becomes cheaper, it's spreading."

Because poachers can use radar to see police vessels coming, police are becoming more sophisticated in their enforcement approach.

Johnson says that later this year, Maryland NRP will launch a feature called "geo-fencing" — the state will be able to draw electronic fences around oyster sanctuaries, which will trigger an alarm when vessels break the virtual barrier.

"This is like a force multiplier for us. It allows us to have more eyes on the water when we have less people on patrol," Johnson says.

Among state enforcement efforts:

•In Washington state, law enforcement obtains court orders to place GPS tracking devices on boats suspected of poaching activity, says Mike Cenci, deputy chief of operations for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. The state also deploys video cameras at confidential locations. The cameras have helped catch salmon poachers, he says.

•In South Florida, natural resources police use high-powered spotting scopes to zoom in on poachers, says Katie Purcell, a spokeswoman with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. The scopes have been effective at catching poachers robbing lobster traps, Purcell says.

•Off the coast of Southern California, investigators first build a case against an offender, then send in a covert dive team to catch a violation in progress, says Lt. Eric Kord of the California Department of Fish and Game. "It's very effective if you've done the proper background and intelligence," he says.

Danny Webster of Deal Island, Md., who fishes for oysters, says he doesn't have a problem with surveillance measures. He says he hopes it stops people who are gaining an unfair advantage by raiding oyster sanctuaries.

"Most watermen are honest, and that will weed out the watermen who aren't. I say get rid of the bad apples and we'll get our respect back," Webster says


I think the electronic nets sound really cool and hopefully will be a great deterrent!

Jim
 

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Great article. Virtual fences for oyster sanctuaries in MD is really going to make a difference in oyster restoration efforts. That's a smart security system investment considering the resource investment our State has made to date establishing the MD Grows Oysters program. It's just a darn shame they are needed.
 

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Great article. Virtual fences for oyster sanctuaries in MD is really going to make a difference in oyster restoration efforts. That's a smart security system investment considering the resource investment our State has made to date establishing the MD Grows Oysters program. It's just a darn shame they are needed.
So how does that work?? Each time a boat drives over it or stops over the sanctuary? Each time a barrier on the bottom is "broken" from a tong, diver or dredge. Are they planning on banning all boat traffic over these area's.....no fishing, trolling, pleasure boating, etc?
 

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All of these high-tech methods are great to catch the poachers however a chain is as strong as it's weakest link. If you look at the rap sheets of some of these poachers, it doesn't seem like there is too big of a problem catching them. Our courts and judges need to step up to the plate and deter this bad behavior through harsh punishments.

Law enforcement is a cat and mouse game. Look at radar that police use to enforce speed. Next up is a radar detector that is being sold to the speeders. Now the State makes detectors illegal and a company makes a radar detector, detector to find the illegal detectors. It will never stop until it starts on the water and ends in the court. Poaching is BIG business and until it is made unattractive, there will be a line to get in.................Gary
 

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All of these high-tech methods are great to catch the poachers however a chain is as strong as it's weakest link. If you look at the rap sheets of some of these poachers, it doesn't seem like there is too big of a problem catching them. Our courts and judges need to step up to the plate and deter this bad behavior through harsh punishments.

Law enforcement is a cat and mouse game. Look at radar that police use to enforce speed. Next up is a radar detector that is being sold to the speeders. Now the State makes detectors illegal and a company makes a radar detector, detector to find the illegal detectors. It will never stop until it starts on the water and ends in the court. Poaching is BIG business and until it is made unattractive, there will be a line to get in.................Gary
:thumbup::thumbup:
 
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