Coast Guard and NOAA make fisheries bust in protected area

SOUTHPORT, N.C. – Coast Guard crews located two vessels in a protected area about 55 nautical miles southeast of Southport and worked with National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration personnel to seize 2,000 pounds of fish Aug. 6.

The Coast Guard Cutter Block Island crew located the fishing vessels Miss Kaylee and Split Decision on radar, 200 to 300 yards inside the Snowy Grouper Wreck Marine Protected Area. Their boarding team found 500 pounds of Red Snapper and 500 pounds of Vermilion Grouper on the first vessel. They found 700 pounds of snapper and 300 pounds of grouper on the other.

They escorted both vessels to the Cape Fear River Sea Buoy after receiving authorization from the NOAA Office of Law Enforcement. A Station Oak Island 41-foot utility boat crew then escorted the fishing vessels to Southport and turned them over to special agents of the NOAA OLE.

“This was the first bust for the Snowy Grouper Wreck MPA,” said Lt. Cmdr. Michael Cilenti, the captain of the Block Island. “Stopping two vessels from illegally fishing in the same area is also a first.”

Petty Officer 1st Class Daniel Garver, the Boarding Officer aboard the Block Island, said, “the crew claimed to have no idea they were fishing in a marine protected area, however they were very cooperative even though they were found to have been fishing illegally.”

NOAA agents seized both vessels’ GPS units as evidence and the illegal catch was seized and sold. The proceeds from the sale of fish are held in a suspense account pending the outcome of the investigation. The investigation is still underway and the final case report will be turned into the NOAA Southeast Regional Office of General Counsel for review and penalty assessment.

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