t was surprising to read the account in the Virginian-Pilot about last week’s raid by federal agents on charter fishing boats tied up on the Northern Neck and Rudee Inlet.
As first reported by the Sun, special agents of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration armed with search warrants boarded at least four boats as part of their three-year investigation of illegal striped bass fishing in federal waters. Agents confiscated radio records, cell phone records, GPS units, client lists and fuel logs.
A grand jury also is reviewing evidence and calling witnesses.
But charter captains brushed off the show of force, preferring to see a snowball rather than an avalanche.
Capt. Trick Standing of Virginia Beach told the Virginia newspaper that charter captains were viewing the raid as “a warning.”
“I don’t know what the fuss is about,” he said. “They’ve done all this work, but there were no tickets issued–nothing to show for it.”
Capt. Mike Romeo, whose boat was searched last week, said, “They’re spending millions of dollars launching helicopters and planes, and sending out boats, for a couple of fishing tickets.”
Someone should tell the good captains and their colleagues that Feds armed with search warrants don’t issue tickets. Grand juries aren’t convened for a judicial fire drill. If NOAA has been investigating poaching in federal waters, it’s not seeking $100 per fish fines.
It’s a poorly kept secret that commercial boats, charters and recreational anglers all stray three miles off shore and into federal waters in search of the big stripers. The problem has become so acute that the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission complained to NOAA and the Coast Guard last year.
And if we learned anything from the eight-year sting of poaching on the Chesapeake Bay and Potomac River, it’s that federal law enforcement officers take their time. By the time they finally wrapped up their Chesapeake/Potomac operation, they convicted 19 men and got prison time for 15 of them. They collected $1.66 million in fines and restitution and put folks out of business.
This investigation is being handled by the same Justice Department prosecuting team.
A couple of tickets? Virginia poachers should be so lucky.