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TPWD News Release — Sept. 1, 2009

Texas Parks and Wildlife and NOAA office of Law Enforcement Target Charter Boats in Gulf Covert Operation

Enforcing charter boat permit moratorium helps red snapper, honest companies

GALVESTON, Texas — A one-year undercover operation by NOAA Office of Law Enforcement’s Southeast Division in conjunction with Texas Game Wardens has netted charges against owners and operators of seven charter boats, resulting in more than $100,000 in fines for Texas-based offenders.

After receiving multiple complaints regarding illegal charter boat trips, undercover agents with NOAA OLE and investigators with Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s Special Operations Unit chartered trips on vessels across the Texas Gulf coast. The undercover agents and investigators documented violations on each vessel for operating without federal charter boat moratorium permits.

Red snapper is a main target of charter boats, and it is one of the most overfished resources in the Gulf of Mexico, according to the Federal Register. In 2003, a Federal moratorium was placed on permits to limit access to the fishery in an effort to maintain sustainability of red snapper.

Since this moratorium, the only way to obtain a permit was to purchase one from an existing holder. This has raised the value of the permits, which are valued today between $8,000 and $10,000 according to NOAA authorities.

NOAA Fisheries considers the Charter Vessel/Headboat Permit moratorium an important factor in the ecosystems approach to fisheries management. Enforcing this moratorium not only saves the resource, it also helps maintain industry fairness.

“Business is being taken away from legal charter boat companies because the illegal companies can charge much less for trips,” said OLE Special Agent Charles Tyer of the Galveston, Texas, field office.

Also documented on the undercover operations were several other federal fisheries violations including undersize fish, harvesting fish during a closed season, filleting fish at sea, concealing fish from enforcement and failure to use venting tools, dehookers and circle hooks to fish for reef fish. Multiple state and U.S. Coast Guard violations were detected as well, and as a result, investigators have received intelligence implicating additional illegal charter boat operations in the Gulf of Mexico.

The owners and operators of the seven charter boats were primarily charged with violations of the federal Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, totaling more than $100,000 in fines. Texas-based boat operators charged were based along the Texas coast from Sabine Pass near the Louisiana border to Corpus Christi.

Texas Game Wardens and NOAA – OLE continue to work jointly in the effort to ensure compliance with the laws and regulations enacted to conserve and protect marine resources. Anyone with information regarding illegal charter fishing should contact the national toll-free hotline at (800) 853-1964 or in Texas, call Operation Game Thief at (800) 792-GAME (4263).