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Operation Game Thief Nets Poachers, Big Fines
AUSTIN, Texas — Phone calls to Operation Game Thief by concerned citizens this summer resulted in the conviction of two individuals on 38 misdemeanor fishing-related charges and fines totaling more than $13,000 when the cases were adjudicated in September.
In one case, a Nueces County game warden received a phone call about a vessel tied-up to an offshore production platform in state waters south of Corpus Christi. The caller said the individuals on board were keeping everything they caught.
The game warden alerted colleagues and launched a boat in record time, entering the Gulf of Mexico through the newly opened Packery Channel. Another phone call from the complainant provided the warden with the general heading and a description of the boat, which had left the first location.
When game wardens boarded the boat, within four miles of shore, the captain produced a Federal Reef Permit and claimed all of his fish were caught outside of state waters. The game warden left the area but circled around to observe the vessel at its next stop and boarded the boat again when crew members were observed catching fish.
After the vessel was docked in Port Aransas and offloaded, the final count was 2,212 pounds of fish (sold to the highest bidder), including 2,094 pounds of Red snapper. More than two dozen citations were issued to the vessel owner.
In processing the individuals aboard the boat, it was found that the seven crewmembers shared 62 prior violations with TPWD. One individual had 45 pending cases, and the vessel owner had six prior citations.
The owner entered a plea agreement, reducing court-ordered fines from $500 per violation to $365, resulting in a total of $9,490 in fines and an additional $9,612.82 in civil restitution.
Another call to Operation Game Thief this summer sent a second Nueces County game warden to a local pier where an angler had been observed keeping over-limit, under-size and over-size fish. The call came in at about midnight, and the game warden quickly set up surveillance on the pier and observed the individual catching and keeping fish, then making repeated trips to his vehicle with a white, 5-gallon bucket. After six hours, the subject decided it was time to leave and when he returned to his vehicle with his bucket and fishing gear, the game warden was there to greet him.
After sorting and counting the fish, the warden issued 12 citations for over-limt and under-size spotted seatrout and red drum.
When the charges were adjudicated, the judge agreed to a plea agreement in which the defendant is to pay $300 in fines per violation, for a total of $3,600, plus $672.57 in civil restitution.
Operation Game Thief is Texas’ privately-funded wildlife “crime-stoppers” program. Rewards of up to $1,000 may be paid to tipsters (who may remain anonymous).
Since its inception in 1981, Operation Game Thief has fielded more than 28,000 tips, filed more than 9,000 cases – with a 98 percent conviction rate — and netted more than $1 million in fines. The program has paid-out rewards totaling more than $200,000.
“Any law enforcement program must have two things to be successful: public support and court-applied penalties sufficient to be a deterrent,” said Lawson “Buddy” Turner, OGT program director. “Operation Game Thief is the crucial link in the partnership between the sporting public and game wardens in terms of catching poachers. One timely, two-minute phone call to OGT can – and often does – result in an apprehension that has significant impact, both in resource conservation and deterrence.”
In 1995, the legislature authorized OGT to make grants to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department to purchase sophisticated law enforcement tools such as night-vision equipment and side-scan sonar. To date, those grants total more than $117,000.
To report illegal hunting, fishing or boating activity, call Operation Game Thief 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week, at 1-800-792-GAME.
Game wardens recommend making the call immediately when illegal activity is observed, and say it is helpful to have a description of the activity, location of the violation, physical descriptions of alleged violators, description of any vehicles or boats and the direction of travel.
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