Shrimp season in Coastal Georgia waters begins Tuesday, but some shrimp-boat captains don’t want to wait and will risk shrimping in closed waters. According to Georgia Department of Natural Resources Capt. Doug Lewis, they may face having their shrimp confiscated by DNR rangers, as well as heavy fines and criminal charges.
Lewis said a 44-foot shrimp trawler was boarded by DNR rangers early Saturday morning off the shore of Ossabaw Island Cpl. Jay Morgan and Sgt. Phillip Scott, who are assigned to Liberty County, and Cpl. Chris Moore and Ranger 1st Class Kiel Toney, who are assigned to Chatham County, made the shrimp bust.
Lewis said the boat, which is based in Liberty County, was escorted to Sunbury, where 708 pounds of shrimp were confiscated and sold for $3,577. He said that while Morgan and Scott weighed the illegally caught shellfish, Moore and Toney measured the shrimp boat’s turtle-excluder device that allows sea turtles to escape from shrimp nets. The device was found to be in compliance with regulations.
“The captain and two crew members were cited for using power-drawn nets 1.1 miles into closed waters,” Lewis said. “The captain was also cited for operating a boat without lights during hours of darkness. Oh, and they were cited for possession of undersize flounder.”
He said the shrimp were sold so the food would not be wasted. The proceeds of the sale are held in escrow until the case goes to court, he said. If the captain and crew are found innocent, the money for the sale of the shrimp will be returned. If they’re found guilty, the money will go to Georgia’s general fund.
Lewis said shrimp boats are bonded for $5,000 before they’re issued a permit, and since Saturday’s violators were issued citations, the DNR would move against their bond. For a first offense, he said the fine is $1,000; for a second offense, it’s $5,000. He added that they also will face civil and criminal charges.
“We have people on the beaches that sometimes report illegal shrimping,” Morgan said. “That morning around 3:30 a.m., we were offshore on patrol in our 27-foot Boston whaler. We spotted them with their running lights, but we’d already seen them on radar. Then everything went completely dark.
“I’ve been doing this for 31 years, and I know where the (closed limit) lines are. We knew they were shrimping illegally, so we boarded them then escorted them to Sunbury.”
Morgan said the DNR has a lot of technology at its disposal to enforce Georgia’s fish and game laws and to assist the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration, which provides the state with grants to pay for boats and equipment, including radar, night-vision goggles and infrared night devices.
On Wednesday, Lewis said DNR rangers from his Brunswick office were flying along the coast, watching for illegal shrimping and doing what he called “surveillance stuff.” He said Georgia’s shrimp season begins when waters from its coastline out to 3 miles are open for commercial harvesting of shrimp.
“The shrimp have already shown up this year,” Morgan said. “Boats from Virginia and North Carolina have also shown up, but the boat we stopped was local. (Other rangers) also caught a local boat shrimping illegally in McIntosh County last weekend.”
He said shrimp typically are sold to local restaurants and seafood dealers, and there is no way for seafood dealers to know whether the shrimp they are sold were caught in closed waters.
Morgan said DNR rangers normally work eight-hour days, but that’s not always the case. He said they may get an evening call about a missing boater and spend the rest of the night on a search-and-rescue mission. The day he and his fellow rangers caught the illegal shrimpers was a 13-hour day, he said.
“It’s hard for us to be everywhere at one time,” Lewis added. “We really appreciate the tips we receive from the public about illegal hunting, fishing or shrimping.”
Lewis encourages people to call the DNR at 1-800-241-4113 to report illegal harvesting of Georgia’s fish and game.