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Archive for Sunday, May 4, 2003

Fish tech aids law enforcement in Florida

May 4, 2003

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Technology is helping anglers catch more fish.

It is also helping law en-forcement officers with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission catch more fishermen who break the law.

Lt. John Reed and Officer Paul Alber recently made a case against a diver who was killing groupers with a powerhead.

A powerhead, also known as a bang stick, fires a bullet when it is jabbed against a fish.

Using a powerhead to take fish is illegal in state waters and legal in federal waters.

Reed and Alber had observed the diver in state waters.

While the diver was in the water, they eased up to the anchor line of his boat and Alber got into the boat with the boat's mate.

"I putted off about 300 yards away," Reed said. "I see this orange bag come up to the surface. I see three grouper tails flapping on the surface."

The diver had attached the fish to a lift bag, which he then filled with air and sent to the surface.

The mate's job was to pull the anchor line and pick up the fish.

"He already had six or seven groupers on the boat and they all had powerhead marks," Reed said.

"Finally, this guy surfaces. He's got a grouper in one hand and a powerhead in the other. As he's throwing this grouper into the boat, Paul's standing there helping him. Paul sees the powerhead. From the time the guy swims from one side of the boat to the other, he lost the powerhead."

At the time, the boat was in 75 feet, well within state boundaries. The diver told Alber that the other fish he'd killed with the powerhead were taken in federal waters.

Alber wrote a citation for all the fish and confiscated them. The fish were later sold to a seafood house.

"We got three bids for them and we take the highest bidder," Reed said. "If we lose the case, the guy gets the check. If he loses, the money goes to the commission."

Alber also took the boat's Global Positioning System unit, which was crucial to making the case.

"Most guys turn on their GPS when they leave the dock," Reed said. "The GPS keeps track of every place you stop. The commission has a computer program that, when hooked up to a GPS, it'll give you a plot of where that boat went, with the time and date.

"When the boat was on plane, it'll give you a straight-line plot. When the boat was idling, you get little dashes. When the boat stopped, you get a dot.

"Then we put the plot on a nautical chart. This GPS showed that the guy never left state waters."

Reed recalled another case where he stopped a fisherman coming back to Florida from the Bahamas who was guilty of a Lacey Act violation. The Lacey Act applies when one returns to U.S. waters having exceeded Bahamian bag limits.

"The guy said he wasn't in the islands," Reed said. "We snatched his GPS and it showed he was in the islands."

In the case of the diver, even if he had legally taken the groupers in federal waters, he was not allowed to stop in state waters and dive. "He has to take the most direct route home," Reed said.

Otherwise, law enforcement officers have to assume the fish were all taken in state waters.

They'd have to make the same assumption if someone who caught a legal limit of six kingfish in the Bahamas stopped to fish for sailfish in state waters, where the limit on kingfish is two per person.

A good lawyer might be able to get an angler off the hook, or at least get a judge to reduce the penalty.

The diver that Reed and Alber caught was undoubtedly counting on that.

"He said to us, 'You got me. But you only got me for this one fish,'" Reed said.

Little did he know that his GPS unit told a different story.

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