In order to better protect the red snapper fish stocks in the Southeast, NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement, alongside other state and federal natural resource enforcement agencies, will continue to conduct increased enforcement efforts focused on the commercial and recreational red snapper fisheries in Gulf of Mexico and South Atlantic.
“We’ve been working closely with our state partners to patrol the Gulf waters and ensure compliance with the state and federal fishing regulations with the goal of better protecting red snapper stocks,” said Manny Antonaras, deputy special agent in charge of NOAA Enforcement’s Southeast Division. “We make every effort to educate the public on the rules and regulations governing the various red snapper seasons; it’s a hot topic and a high priority for us.”
In 2016, NOAA Enforcement and state Joint Enforcement Agreement (JEA) partners, including Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, conducted hundreds of patrols and red snapper focused operations in federal waters in the Gulf and South Atlantic. Day-to-day patrols are essential for enforcement efforts and visibility. But, targeted patrols — such as last year’s snapper operations — help increase compliance among anglers by making them aware of the regulations and deter illegal activity.
“Focused enforcement operations are invaluable,” said Lt. Pat O’Shaughnessy, supervisory enforcement officer of NOAA Enforcement. Adding that data collected from these operations become measurable results for year-to-year comparisons, which helps identify what approaches are working and what efforts need to be improved.
“We attend captains’ and tournament meetings, as well as fishery management council meetings throughout the year to make sure the industry is aware of the regulations,” said Enforcement Officer William Widener. “Our methods of communicating with industry are always evolving and it’s something we’re always trying to improve.”
Increased patrols and enforcement activities are not the only ways NOAA is responding to the industry’s call for action. Fines deterring illegal activity are increasing, too.
Last year’s red snapper-focused enforcement activities resulted in NOAA Enforcement taking an enforcement action on more than 120 separate violations, with most occurring during a time when the federal season was closed. The significant level of willful non-compliance with federal regulations is not only unfair to the vast majority of fishers who abide by the rules, but indicates that those who choose to violate the law have been undeterred by the financial penalty currently being assessed for violations. In response, the NOAA Office of General Counsel has doubled the penalty for red snapper violations in the commercial and recreational fisheries this season.
How much will a red snapper violation in federal waters in the Gulf and South Atlantic now cost?
For red snapper violations that involve fish caught in federal waters during a closed season, that are over the catch limit, undersized, or filleted at sea, the penalty now starts at $500 per violation, plus an additional $50 per fish — up to the first 20 fish — associated with each violation. For more serious violations involving larger number of red snapper, where there is a history of past violations, or other extenuating circumstances, penalties may be assessed at a much higher amount in accordance with NOAA’s Policy for the Assessment of Civil Administrative Penalties and Permit Sanctions. This fine increase applies to both Gulf of Mexico and South Atlantic federal waters.
In addition to the increase in fines, enforcement operations similar to those conducted last year will resume this season.
“We’re all responsible for ensuring our fisheries are sustainable for future generations,” said Antonaras. “We are committed to safeguarding our marine resources and will ensure compliance with related regulations.”
For information related to the red snapper season within state waters, visit each state’s fishery management department to obtain the regulations in state waters. Red snapper may not be harvested in state waters on board a vessel with a valid federal commercial or charter vessel/headboat permit.
If you witness a violation, contact the 24-hour NOAA Office of Law Enforcement Hotline at 1-800-853-1964; tips may be left anonymously.
Story by Ally Rogers, communications officer for NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement. To contact her, please call 301-427-8255 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.