The article about poachers in Thurmont, MD, got me thinking about our local situation and wondering if anyone has a way to best address it. Any advice or suggestions appreciated.
In terms of background information, the water is a short (~3 mile section) of creek located in the SE corner of PA, extending from a crossing road bridge, under two other road bridges, down to the confluence of the main creek. The water is designated "delayed harvest, artificial lures only", meaning artificial lures only allowed, catch & release only between sunset Labor Day and sunrise June 15th; June 15th to Labor Day the stream has a 5 trout limit. Locals will immediately recognize which creek it is.
The problem is poachers--scads of them. For the most part bait fishermen and spin casters, but I wouldn't be shocked to learn that a fly fisherman or two took something out of season. Bait fishing (worms, powerbait, whatever) is illegal at any time. Taking fish is illegal except June 15th to Labor Day. On any given evening from early March (spring stocking date) until June 15th I will encounter poachers taking fish illegally, often using illegal bait. I can usually find a poacher with 15 minutes of parking my car, and no further than 100 yards from the road/bridge. After June 15th the illegal bait & lures poaching activity continues, as does taking more than a legal catch (5 fish). Things die down once the poachers strip the stream of all trout, but come the first Monday in October (fall stocking day) the poaching activity begins again and continues until the trout are once again scoured from the river. Mind you, the fall stocking fish may not be legally taken until the following June, but the poachers will have stripped the river clean by the first of November.
A contributing factor to the problem is Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission enforcement--or, more, accurately, total lack of enforcement. First, there is no enforcement presence on the stream. For example, I fished the creek nearly every other day since 2006; I spent a portion of nearly 200 days on that water in 2007. Despite being on the creek nearly every other day, I have never, ever seen a warden. Second, there is no means to report a poacher except during normal Fish & Boat Commission business hours (8:00 AM to 4:30 PM, Monday through Friday). Just completely forgot about reporting a poacher after hours, weekends, or state holidays. There is no 24-hour/7-day 800- poacher hotline in this state. After hours poaching sighted? Sorry, no help available. Even if you call during business hours the warden will not respond. I have the local warden's cell phone number on my cell phone's speed dial (he made the mistake of calling me on a Saturday using his cell phone)—perhaps now he recognizes my name/number on caller ID and doesn't answer my calls--especially after hours—but when I try to report poachers I can’t reach anyone.
Literally, seeing a poacher on this stream is a daily occurrence. You need not work very hard to find one. If you were to walk the stream's 2 or 3 hot spots (i.e. where the stocking truck drops the fish) it would take less than 30 minutes to cover them all, including walking time along the creek and driving time between creek access points. In that time you would most likely encounter one or more poachers on a routine basis, see signs of poaching (worm tubs or other bait bins), etc.
I do this routinely and have assembled a rather large rogue gallery of poachers' vehicle & license plate photos in my truck.
All of this is made even more frustrating by the stream's designation and what that means in terms of number of trout stocked. Because the stream is intended to be catch & release the state stocks only a minimal number of fish; ~200 trout is all the state places within ~3 miles of creek during any one stocking season.
When contacted about apprehending poachers the warden cries budget shortages, being spread to thin, other higher priority duties (pollution enforcement, etc.). Hearing that tale of woe, several locals offered to become volunteer Fish & Boat enforcement officers, including footing the bill and time for whatever training and equipment might be required—we received no response. None.
I have watched the poaching drama for 2-years now. Last October, a few days after the fall stocking, 3 guys brazenly waded into the 2nd stocking point with cast nets and rather quickly cleaned out the entire trout stocking at that point--about 75 fish.
Personally confront poachers? I'm a big guy, but even I don't like 3-on-1 confrontations. When I confront a poacher I take the approach of "probably an honest mistake, let me tell you that this stream section is catch & release, the boundaries are located there & there, surely you'll release the fish" -- I've been told by many poachers, in no uncertain terms, that it is none of my business.
So, apologies for the long winded post, but I would really appreciate any useful suggestions. Approaching the warden is a losing proposition--been there, done that. The creek runs through a state park, but contacting the park warden is equally futile. I think I need a political solution, brought about by either the local state senator or representative, or brought about by heat from the local paper. That, or brought about by some great idea I haven't considered.
Anyone had to battle such a situation and won? If so, what worked?
Approaching the warden is a losing proposition--been there, done that. The creek runs through a state park, but contacting the park warden is equally futile. I think I need a political solution, brought about by either the local state senator or representative, or brought about by heat from the local paper. That, or brought about by some great idea I haven't considered.
Anyone had to battle such a situation and won? If so, what worked?
You wrote about heat from the paper, could you possibly write a letter to the editor? In our paper, there is still a section for this. Also, could you possibly contact the local/state/park police? The police could detain the people until the warden arrives. Just becareful doing this though, in today's world you never know what might happen after the police leave. You might need to go up the food chain a little bit though. If the people you are contacting are not responding, maybe you need to go up the next rung...
I know that game wardens are spread thin. Here in TN, there is one game warden/wildlife officer for each county. Also with the creek being in the park, there might be some jurisdictional problems, but not sure.
I hope that you get the problem resolved. The idea of two guys with casting nets really upsets me...
Here in Connecticut there's a 24 hour hot line to report poachers
On top of that, on the back of the TIPs (turn in poachers) card that I carry in my wallet, I write down the personal phone numbers of the Environmental Police (game wardens) that I meet in my district.
Everyone of these guys that I've met are very passionate about their job and welcome all the help they can get.
Not one has refused to give their personal contact number
Here along the Deckers section of the South Platte, poaching is also a problem. Not to the extent of using nets however.
The Deckers area has a long history of being a destination for city folk from Denver and Colorado Springs. Many young people get their first fishing experience here. This is good for the most part. Trouble is many of the fathers bringing their young'ins up here do not adhere to the "2 fish over 16", flies and lures only" regulations.
Bait fishing and culling of undersized fish in the area can be witnessed on any given weekend. Another problem is the area has a history of being a party spot for many, let me say, less than responsible individuals. Again an illegal culling and bait fishing problem with them.
Reporting violations is difficult since there is no cell phone service along the river. I've tried on numerous occasions to educate people about the regs but have met resistance and sometimes hostile responses from the violators.
It is a difficult situation to deal with. The authorities stress education as an answer, but this in itself has been futile. Again lack of resources in enforcement is a problem.
Compounding the issue is the fact that the Platte is recovering from the ash and sediment deposited as a result of Colorado's largest ever forest fire. The habitat for reproducing rainbows and browns is full of decomposed granite. After the spawn the eggs and or fry are being killed off by the first spring run offs scouring the bottom.
Efforts on the part of the CDOW have been negligible at best in trying to bring about a naturally reproducing population of trout in the area.
Wow. Here in NY our DEC is way understaffed and under budgeted too. But they have been very responsive, at least here on LI, and though they can't always respond immediately to every complaint, they absolutely do make an effort to follow up, and have been very interested in getting info, and have acted on it by staking out spots known for violations (keeping shorts etc).
Most states have a TIPS hotline (Turn In Poachers) and they have been very successful. The lack of response and flagrant violations you mentioned is outrageous. You would think they would be thankful for the reports and make an effort. It sounds like a no brainer.
I would escalate this up the chain first within the dept starting with the local CO, then the regional office-- acknowledge their staffing and budget limitations, express your willingness to help in anyway, and see if you can develop a nonadversarial relationship with them first. Give them the opportunity and if they blow it, publicize the hotline # at area fly shops and contact your local TU Chapter and local press if need be. Although the powers that be should be responsive to individual citizens like yourself that want to do the right thing, sometimes they need a push that a flood of complaints, organizations with numbers of folks behind them, and the embarassment of bad press can generate to get them off the dime.
Some well publicized busts would certainly help, but just the visible presence of a CO checking licenses would get around pretty quickly. Good luck on this, I'd be real interested to hear how this works out.
I think that you have to be very careful confronting even a single person. People are shot or knifed for very minor confutations. I would strike up a conversation first and get a feel for the person. If he keeps a fish or is using the wrong gear you might say something like "Wow, you know there is a big fine for doing that". His response will tell you if he gives a darn.
1. If you really want to impact what is going on you need to start with your local government. Not the fish and game. Find a state Senator or House member for your area. Try to make them aware of the problem. Ask what you can do since the local fish and game says they don't have the man power. If you can get one of these people on your side they can make things happen.
2. Some states have volunteers to help with field activities. You get training and then you get your Smokey Hat or what ever they wear. Some ever let these volunteers give out tickets. Maybe you can get this going in your state. Your state Senator or Representative may support something like these.
3. Find a fly fishing club you can join. Most have a political action committee. Get on that commenter or form one if they don't have one. If there is no club, form one. If you have no luck personally with your state government maybe the club can do better. You are now a group of people and that may open some doors.
4. Sometimes the newspaper outdoor editor can be a big help. He may even have connections with your state legislature. Letters to the editor sometimes do more damage than good. I think you can get better results with the outdoor editor.
This is not an easy battle but with the right connections you can solve it. It will take a lot of effort on your part. Make sure anything you write is not inflammatory. Just state facts and that there is a problem. If you start a hostile campaign against the Fish and Game it will be imposable to get results from them.
The best way to address a poacher is: "Yo, dirtbag!" You can take it from there. But seriously...
Many states have a shortage of conservation officers to enforce the laws. I'm in PA and regularly experience the same thing you have. Very frustrating to say the least.
What I have found that works now is a digital camera, a pad and pencil and recording everything I can. Get that info to your region office and be willing to follow up. Unfortunately, most PA counties have one WCO and maybe a volunteer deputy or two. These guys keep busy on the larger impoundments where they can write boater violations all day long and not have to walk up and down the river or stream.