VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (AP) — Investigators seized records and electronics equipment from charter boats this week as part of a crackdown on striped bass fishing in off-limits federal waters.
The Baltimore Sun reported Friday that the federal investigation is focusing on fishing charters that venture into an area called the Exclusive Economic Zone. Big stripers migrate to those waters 3 to 200 miles off the coast during the winter months.
Officials arrived in about a half-dozen vehicles Thursday at Rudee Inlet, an area of the beach resort where many charters are based, and searched several charter boats, a fishing captain said.
Mike Romeo, a North Carolina-based charter operator who shifts his operations to Virginia Beach during the winter, said one official with a search warrant checked his radios. He then left without seizing anything or issuing any tickets, Romeo said.
Romeo said charters on his boat, the Gannet, fish in an area within 3 miles of the Virginia coast. “It all matters where the bait is,” he said in an interview with The Associated Press.
The Sun described the operation as a three-year investigation into charter boats illegally fishing for striped bass in the off-limits waters. The newspaper said the investigation has resulted in the seizure of electronics and records from a number of charter boats based in Virginia Beach or the Northern Neck, which is in the Chesapeake Bay.
The Sun said special agents from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration served search warrants on the charters.
NOAA did not return messages left by The AP.
“I hope this is a wake-up call for everybody,” said Brian Keehn, president of the Maryland Charter Boat Association. “We need to start paying attention to the striped bass before we have another moratorium and no one fishes. Illegal fishing hurts everybody.”
Poachers use spotters and satellite phones to monitor the activities of enforcement boats, including the Coast Guard, The Sun reported. Poachers who are approached dump fish overboard in weighted containers to destroy the evidence.
Capt. Trick Standing of Virginia Beach said the raid was being viewed around Rudee Inlet as a warning.
“I don’t know what all the fuss is about,” Standing told The Virginian-Pilot. “They’ve done all this work, but there were no tickets issued — nothing to show for it.”
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)