The Day – State to impose fines for striped bass poaching

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The General Assembly has passed a bill that will make the striped bass poaching pay.

Right now, those who catch more than one popular fish per day or land less than 28 inches or larger than 35 inches are being charged with an offense that requires them to appear in court.

Under the new law, which will take effect as soon as Governor Ned Lamont signs the bill, violators will be issued a ticket, which provides for fines starting at $ 100 per fish for the first offense. Fines increase to $ 200 per fish for the second offense and a fine of $ 500 per fish and up to 30 years in prison for future offenses.

Fisheries officials and change advocates say current method of charging misdemeanors has made enforcement difficult. They say this is because cases are often not prosecuted by legal authorities, but issuing a ticket to an offender immediately, just as they would for speeding in a car, will better deter poaching. and improve law enforcement..

Phillip Sheffield of Mystic, administrator of the popular Connecticut Catch and Release Fly Fishing Facebook group, said the bill was a positive step in protecting the region’s striped bass population. According to the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, the number of striped bass has rebounded in recent years thanks to conservation efforts, but recent poaching is starting to undermine this success.

Justin Davis, deputy director of DEEP’s fisheries division, which pushed for approval of the bill, explained that a striped bass shortage in the 1980s led to fish poaching rather than a crime. ‘a simple offense. But the change backfired.

“The practical end result was that our officers would pursue misdemeanor cases that would ultimately be dismissed,” Davis said. “You would have a situation where a guy who took too much striped bass and got caught by our environmental protection police. There is a lot of paperwork for the officers, they would go through the whole process, and he would just be Our ENCON (Environmental Conservation) police felt that they did not have the tools they needed to enforce all other marine fish offenses. They said, “Why don’t we deal with it. not striped bass like we treat all other fish – which will allow us to enforce the rules more effectively.

Sheffield’s concerns over the striped bass are well-founded among members of her Facebook group, who took part in a letter-writing campaign supporting the bill.

“There is a huge amount of striped bass poaching in Connecticut. The entire coast is suffering,” he said. “There has been a huge depletion of the striped bass, and they are in trouble. Marine fisheries managers say they are overfished. in court with a judge who is much more concerned with putting someone in jail. It is a necessary bill and it was passed almost unanimously.

Davis said overloaded courts will no longer have to decide whether to prosecute in a striped bass case where someone took too much or the fish was not the right size.

“When they look at the violations in front of them, they may look at someone who caught a little too many fish or caught a fish that was too small and doesn’t think it falls under the level of prosecution,” he said.

The fines will encourage offenders not to go to court and deter them in the future, supporters say.

“It’s like when you get a speeding ticket, you can just say, ‘I’ll pay the ticket, and then it’s over, and I don’t have to face any additional hassle,’ said Davis. “With an offense you can still plead not guilty and go to court to try to escape the fine, but people are less likely to do that, whereas with a misdemeanor case you force them to go to court.”

Davis said it was no exaggeration to call the striped bass “iconic,” certainly in the northeast and along the entire Atlantic coast. He said they are popular with recreational fishermen, which makes them economically important.

“We have rebuilt the striped bass stock,” he said. “We haven’t come back to where we were in the 80s, it’s not that bad yet, but the stock is down again, so people are getting used to that now, and there is a lot of pressure. from the public for – we have to make sure we don’t let what happened in the 1980s happen again. “

In Connecticut, striped bass are found seasonally along all coastlines and in all major tidal rivers during summer and fall. The fish migrate south during the winter, but some remain in the Thames.

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