Joint federal effort nets large haul of illegal striped bass

OREGON INLET, N.C. – Coast Guard and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration personnel combined efforts Tuesday to stop illegal striped bass fishing off Oregon Inlet and found one vessel with illegally caught fish that had more than 2,900 pounds of fish aboard.

The economic pressures being felt nationwide and the meteorological conditions driving the striped bass population farther off shore into warmer waters have set the stage for a situation that may entice fishermen to break the law, as evidenced by recent reports from members of the maritime community.

However, in an effort to ensure the longevity of the striped bass population and maintain a level playing field for all fishermen, federal authorities are taking action. Tuesday, in response to multiple reports of commercial and recreational striped bass fishing within the Exclusive Economic Zone, the Coast Guard and NOAA conducted a joint effort to curtail this illegal activity.

Fishing for striped bass is permitted within State waters, but catching or possessing striped bass outside three nautical miles from shore is a violation of federal regulations. In an effort to catch fishermen participating in this illegal activity, the Coast Guard mounted a patrol within known fishing grounds off Oregon Inlet using Station Oregon Inlet’s small boats with the assistance of additional boarding team personnel from Station Hatteras Inlet.

One of the boarding teams sighted the fishing vessel Lady Samaira as it was heading back into port. It was within the Exclusive Economic Zone when the team boarded the vessel to ensure compliance with both fishery and vessel safety regulations. Their investigation revealed more than 150 striped bass aboard the vessel. The boarding team documented their findings and relayed all pertinent information to NOAA for further guidance as they are the regulatory agency for this type of violation. As a result of the boarding team’s findings, NOAA asked the Coast Guard to direct the Lady Samaira to port where NOAA agents met the vessel. When the vessel moored in North Carolina there were less fish aboard, approximately 100 striped bass. The fish, weighing in at almost 3,000 pounds, were abandoned by the vessel’s captain to the NOAA Office of Law Enforcement.

Typically, if less than 10 illegal fish are discovered, in addition to having to abandon their catch the master is levied a $100 fine per fish and the matter is closed. A violation of this magnitude, though, far exceeds the threshold whereby these simple fines can be levied. The NOAA OLE investigation continues, and the final action to be taken against the master and/or vessel has yet to be determined.

This case, while significant, is just one example of illegal striped bass fishing activity recently interdicted by federal, state, and local authorities. Operations driving additional enforcement efforts continue in the interest of maintaining the viability of the striped bass fish stocks and also supporting legitimate fishermen operating within the law.

“Times are tough for many in today’s world, but we must ensure we’re working together and within existing regulations in order to be fair for all,” said Tim Brown, Coast Guard 5th District deputy chief of enforcement.

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