After attending the NJ Marine Fisheries Council Meeting on Thursday January 6th 2022, it’s safe to say that poaching is a serious problem. This fall it was at an all time high in New Jersey waters. Thankfully we have a great group of conservation officers doing their best to control it. It’s just a shame how they are somewhat crippled by the courts. Judges are not looking seriously at fisheries violations due to other priorities and overcrowding issue.
NJ Striped Bass Poachers Busted
Conservation Officer (CO) Snellbaker’s presentation started, “It’s the worst it has ever been. The spring was very bad. April 8 to 11th we wrote 67 summonses for over $15,000 in fines. But this fall was unprecedented. In a small area on the western shores of the Raritan Bay we wrote up 500 bass with 200 tickets. All in one week.” He mentioned that some were only written once but could have had numerous violations. Also due to the lack of CO staffing, the numbers aren’t showing the full picture. They could have issued a lot more fines.
Striped Bass Black Market
There’s a large (how large is yet to be determined) issue with anglers exploiting striped bass and potentially selling them on the black market. “There’s anglers, there’s runners and there’s transporters. It’s an organized ring, ” said Snellbaker.
Striped Bass Are Game Fish In NJ
Striped bass are classified as a gamefish in New Jersey; therefor, no commercial sale of any kind is allowed. With prices of fish sky high right now it’s a lucrative opportunity. More than likely the fish are sold under other names (grouper/snapper) at inner city markets where anything is possible. In 2013 Oceana (an ocean conservation group) found that 1/3rd of the seafood sold at retail did not match its label.
These short striped bass are the essential juveniles that are the key to the striped bass stock. All of them would soon to be first year spawners.
NJ Tautog Poachers Too
Snellbaker also mention another issue, the poaching of tautog. “This fall CO’s issues 200 tickets in two months with some violations having 20+ fish or more. From September 1 to December 1st CO’s issued more the 95 summonses in Barnegat Light alone for undersized, over daily bag limit (some 1 over, some several dozen over), mutilation of fish to prevent identification and interference with an office among others.”
While most anglers might have seen or heard about poachers, who knew it was this bad? The NJ Marine Council board was not aware of it. But they are now and from their comments will come up with a plan to take action.
Some ideas that were where mentioned…
- Issue a state saltwater license (it’s coming one day)
- Increase fine
- Confiscated Gear & Vehicles
- Close a hot bed area or close part of the season
We’ll have to see how it all plays out. Unfortunately good guys will be hurt in the end.
A big thanks to all of those conservation minded anglers for following the rules. And a huge thanks to all of NJ’s Conservation Officers for putting in the hard work. This year I feel like the enforcement stepped up from previous years. I saw CO’s on the water and at land based spots in the spring summer and fall. A presence that I have not seen in previous years. It’s very good to see and I hope their presence continues in 2022 to keep everyone honest.