We should never drop our guard when it comes to imposters, and booking a fishing charter is no exception.
Federal agents on Friday cited 15 charter boat companies for working without permits, not to mention fishing out of season or catching undersized fish.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration had sent undercover agents on charted offshore trips in the Gulf of Mexico after it received multiple complaints about alleged illegal charter boats that had been undercutting legal businesses.
Six of the charter boats were in Florida — five in the Fort Myers area.
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All vessels did not have permits. The vessel names were Reel Action from Fort Myers Beach, fined $10,150; In Hot Pursuit from Fort Myers, fined $12,500 for also possessing a Goliath grouper; Mother Ocean from Indian Shores, which also exceeded its bag limit and was fined $15,150; Workin’ On It, from Fort Myers, fined $13,000; Magic Hook from Fort Myers Beach, fined $12,000; and Baccala, from Fort Myers, fined $15,250.
If any local angler who books an offshore trip in federal waters (beyond 9 nautical miles offshore) wants to make sure a charter boat captain is legit, he should ensure the captain has his NOAA Federal permit. It’s best to find out before the trip.
Anglers can visit the NOAA southeast region Web site and follow links to check out the permitted charter boats in Florida. Have the vessel name and vessel number handy. The direct Web site is http://sero.nmfs.noaa.gov/foia/HTML/RCG.htm.
Or anglers can get a vessel name and call (727) 824-5326 to call the NOAA southeast fisheries office.
The genuine permits will have the NOAA seal on it. Charter captains are required to have copies onboard, said Manny Antonaras, a special agent with the NOAA office of enforcement in St. Petersburg. The permit will have a vessel name and a series of numbers.
NOAA Fisheries Service placed a moratorium on charter boat permits for the Gulf reef fish and coastal migratory pelagics fisheries on June 16, 2003. The reason, according to an NOAA news release, was to maintain sustainability of the species, especially red snapper. After the moratorium, the only way to obtain a permit is to buy one from an existing holder. The value of permits has been raised to between $8,000 and $10,000, the release said.
“With the current status of the red snapper fishery, law enforcement plays an essential part ensuring that all participants play by the same rules,” said Robby Byers, executive director of Coastal Conservation Association of Texas, in the release. “It is unfortunate that there are always a few that feel the laws do not apply to them. Violating regulations only hurts the ones that are trying to do the right thing. CCA commends the special agents of NOAA that are tasked with catching those who jeopardize our public resources.”
Nick Walter, Herald outdoors writer, can be reached at 745-7013.