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NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement Offers Rewards For Information on Unpermitted Fishing Charters in the Southeast

March 08, 2022

Rewards may be given, on a case-by-case basis, to individuals who provide information concerning unpermitted moratorium charter activity that leads to a successful prosecution of these charter boats operations.

Enforcement Officers in Keys NOAA's Enforcement Officers on patrol

In the upcoming weeks, state agencies in the Southeast will announce their 2022 Gulf of Mexico red snapper for-hire season dates. NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement advises those booking a charter trip in federal waters to book a legal charter. If you intend to target reef fish or coastal migratory pelagic fish, you need to be sure you are booking a charter from a federally permitted charter operator. They must also be properly licensed by the United States Coast Guard. Federally permitted charter vessels are required to have extensive safety equipment onboard as well as having United States Coast Guard license endorsements.

“Anyone paying for a trip on a passenger vessel should ask to see the Merchant Mariner Credential of the boat operator to verify their captain is properly licensed by the Coast Guard,” said Brian Knapp, Senior Investigating Officer at Coast Guard Sector St. Petersburg. “If the captain can’t produce a Merchant Mariner Credential, don’t get on the boat.” 

USCG Merchant Mariner Credentials
U.S. Coast Guard Merchant Mariner Credentials

Additionally, if you book a vessel with more than six passengers, you should be able to see a Certificate of Inspection visibly displayed onboard the vessel. This ensures the vessel and crew are properly licensed by the Coast Guard. Unpermitted charters can pose risks to customers and well as the fisheries on which they depend. There is also a financial loss for legal charter operators, who incur significant expenses to acquire and maintain charter requirements. The fishery can suffer, too. Lawfully permitted charter operations provide critical fisheries data to NOAA. This information supports the science that is critical to managing these valuable resources for future generations.

Successful management of a fishery involves harvesting fish at a level that also ensures the long term health of the fish stock. Unpermitted charter operations can negatively impact these resources and directly impact the economic viability and the livelihoods of legal, federally permitted operators. Set aside some time before booking your next charter and empower yourself to ensure you have a safe and legal trip. Your proactive steps have direct positive impacts to the fishery and will allow you to have a memorable fishing experience.

USCG COI Example
Example of U.S. Coast Guard Certificate of Inspection 

Recent Charges

The Office of Law Enforcement and our federal and state enforcement partners are actively conducting enforcement operations throughout the Southeast targeting illegal and unpermitted charters. Illegal charter operators can expect significant financial penalties when they get caught. 

We had a recent case involving a Texas based charter business operating in federal waters without the proper permits that also had illegal gear. The case resulted in a Notice of Violation Assessment for combined civil penalties totaling $24,000. During the hearing, the judge noted the captain’s non-permitted fishing undermined permitted fishermen … gave him an unfair business advantage….” 

Four additional cases totaling $47,850 in combined civil penalties include Florida- and Texas-based businesses. They operated charter fishing vessels in federal waters without a valid Gulf reef fish charter permit or Gulf coastal migratory pelagic fish charter permit. Additional prosecutorial actions 

These recent cases highlight NOAA’s commitment to ensuring compliance with federal regulations so that law abiding charter operators are not disadvantaged by unlawful operations.  

"Unpermitted federal charters continue to be a focus of our enforcement efforts,” said Manny Antonaras, Assistant Director of NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement Southeast Division. “We conduct year-round patrols and operations targeting these businesses and follow up on all case specific tips. If we are able to identify an illegal fishing operation, we will seek prosecution.”

We have also formed a working group between regional enforcement partners in order to more readily share information and conduct operations targeting unpermitted charters. These efforts have resulted in enhanced cooperation between agencies, prosecution of illegal operators, and the ability to share these results with stakeholders and the public.

Help Us Help You

We welcome tips and information from anyone about unpermitted charter operations in the Gulf of Mexico and South Atlantic region. We may, on a case-by-case basis, issue rewards to individuals who provide information concerning unpermitted moratorium charter activity that leads to a successful prosecution. 

You can call our NOAA Enforcement Hotline 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at (800) 853-1964. Information may also be left anonymously. Report a violation


Last updated by Southeast Regional Office on March 17, 2022