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TPWD News Release — Feb. 13, 2006

Game Warden Undercover Investigation Cites Fish Buyers

FORT WORTH, Texas — Texas game wardens have concluded a four-month undercover probe by issuing citations to wholesale and retail fish markets and restaurants in North Texas that have been illegally buying game fish.

Fish poachers have been catching freshwater game fish such as smallmouth, striped, and white bass; blue, channel, and flathead catfish, crappie and trout and illegally selling them to dealers. Wild-caught fish of these species are protected by law from commercial harvest and sale, but farm-raised fish of some of these species can be sold.

The operation started after complaints from some law-abiding retail fish dealers who reported violations by illegal dealers. The investigation took place at various locations in North Texas where most of the illegal transactions were videotaped to positively identify game fish buyers.

“We should point out that several businesses that were contacted by our undercover operatives refused to buy game fish because they knew it was illegal and advised undercover agents not to come back to their establishment,” said Col. Pete Flores, TPWD law enforcement director. “So, many people in this industry do abide by the law, and we appreciate that fact. But illegal activity will not be tolerated.”

Flores said undercover operations are a tool that Texas game wardens use to apprehend those that engage in illegal commerce involving natural resources.

“These operations serve to protect Texas fisheries for lawful recreational and commercial fishing activities on our coastal waters and inland waters,” Flores said.

The investigation documented that more than 30 businesses and restaurants that purchased more than 750 pounds of fish illegally. Violators are being charged with illegal purchase of protected finfish, a Class C misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $500 for each charge.”

If all individual violations are filed the fines would exceed $175,000, plus restitution for each fish in some cases. Cases are being prosecuted through various justice of the peace courts in North Texas, the majority of them in Tarrant County.

All such businesses statewide are required to have in their possession appropriate licenses and paperwork for the sale and purchase of aquatic products. The required paperwork is subject to inspection by game wardens during business hours.

“These types of operations will hopefully remind businesses that the Texas Parks and Wildlife Game Wardens will enforce license and documentation requirements,” said Capt. Scott Haney of TPWD’s Fort Worth law enforcement office, whose team led the effort to issue citations following the undercover investigation.

“Those fishermen who catch game fish and sell them illegally and the businesses that buy game fish illegally will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Game Wardens have an obligation to ensure that the sporting public’s hunting and fishing license dollars go to protecting our natural resources and recreational opportunities throughout the state.”