Last Wednesday’s plea by Jeffery S. Adams was the first in five cases the United States government is bringing against charter boat captains fishing for striped bass in the Exclusive Economic Zone – an area from three to 200 miles of the coast, where it is illegal to fish for or posses rockfish.
Adams’ case is the first in which the government can finally start to show rewards from its extensive and expensive efforts to stop illegal fishing.
While Adams’ plea relieves him of conspiracy and three other charges, it does carry some pretty stiff penalties. His admission of guilt to Lacy Act violations could result in fines totaling $750,000 for Adams and his company. He could lose his boat. He could go to jail. He could lose his licenses to operate in Virginia waters.
It’s doubtful that the worst-case scenario will happen when he is sentenced on April 18. There will be some fines, but he probably won’t lose his boat because it is his sole source of income.
And while many are barking that Adams is getting a mere slap on the wrist, they are missing one serious result of the plea. Adams as of April 18 will be a convicted felon. He will lose several of his rights. And he will be on probation and closely watched for years.
While it’s a safe bet that he won’t be going to jail, his penalty is pretty serious and should serve as a good warning to others who knowingly break a law very few of us agree with.
Two other captains are in the midst of working out their pleas. And after seeing the choices it’s doubtful the remaining two won’t do the same.
Critics of the EEZ argue that too much money is being spent on enforcement and that the results aren’t enough to deter fishing for striper in the protected waters.
The Coast Guard Friday morning released some numbers based on last year’s enforcement patrols, along with pictures and video of some of this year’s Operation Striper Swiper efforts.
Officials emphasized that the numbers were minimal projections based on the cheapest platforms the Coast Guard has at its disposal. The estimates do not include more expensive operations that include Cutters like the Shearwater, or helicopters, or C-130 planes, or – as some have suggested – unmanned drones.
The estimates are for the Coast Guard alone and do not include Virginia Marine Police efforts.
According to the Coast Guard, there were 135 boardings from Delaware Bay to North Carolina last year. Estimates were that each boarding took approximately 30 minutes, resulting in 67.5 hours at a cost of approximately $1,441 an hour. That spells out to nearly $100,000 for last year’s efforts.
In Virginia waters, there were 62 boardings that resulted in 11 summary settlements totaling $3,800 in fines.
“These are low, conservative numbers from last year,” said Chief NyxoLyno Cangemi of the Fifth Coast Guard District’s External Affairs office. “These numbers would be from our smallest boats and do not include any other means used in enforcement.”
Everybody knows the cost of the sting operation that netted five captains in deep water is much greater. Just how much is anybody’s guess.
But it’s no guess that the EEZ argument will continue. And it’s doubtful that the zone ever will be opened to striped bass fishing – even with tighter length and bag limits proposed by those opposing the zone.
With a couple of months left in the coastal striped bass season, and with fish currently schooling in illegal waters, there is little doubt that some will be tempted into heading out and catching a few.
Which is why tax payer dollars will continue to be spent to stop them.