As you may have heard, a couple of Fresno anglers were arrested last week on suspicion of selling stripers on the black market, along with other charges, according to a California Department of Fish and Wildlife news release. These guys, the report stated, also had been cited by wardens eight times in the past year. Whoa! I believe, from conversations with law enforcement officials, that this is the tip of the iceberg when it comes to poaching and overfishing.
What’s going on here? Well, first I would say that the game wardens have been open for some time about all the tickets they have been giving to anglers along the California Aqueduct, at O’Neill Forebay and in the main lake at San Luis Reservoir for over-limits and undersized fish. They had told me there were guys selling black-market fish, too. The problem was serious enough that wardens have voiced concern about the long-term effects on a fishery potentially being unable to sustain itself, given the illegal stuff going on.
In some cases, over-limits have been 40, 50 fish or more. These are the kinds of violations that led to the investigation and arrests. How long can this continue without devastating the fishery, and what’s fueling this troubling trend?
One relatively new development that has had a profound impact is the proliferation of social media groups that unfortunately have been posting highly targeted information, stuff poachers are able to access and use to catch vulnerable stripers. This instant, unfiltered information is designed to point everyone in the group to a specific location, almost as soon as the original angler is doing the post on his catch. Law enforcement tells me this becomes easy fodder for anyone wanting to take advantage of the vulnerable fish. It brings big numbers of otherwise responsible anglers into a fishery, while attracting poachers and even worse elements.
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And it can become a 24/7 fishing thing. Consider the case of the aqueduct, where it’s now tough to catch an 18-inch keeper striper, according to the anglers and wardens with whom I have spoken. In addition, because of the element of people that is being attracted to certain areas, almost no one will fish out there at night. There have been incidents of trashed cars, locks being cut, fences circumvented and tons of trash left behind. It all gives testimony to the traffic and lack of regard for the impact. It’s getting hammered.
After talking to law enforcement and good anglers, it is clear the social media groups through their postings can form a double-edged sword if not handled responsibly. Yes, it’s great to help members find good fishing spots and to share techniques. But when you have no filter, it can cause anglers to pile on and exploit a delicate fishery that’s not able to sustain the number of fish being harvested.
Anglers are excited to join a group that’s constantly giving them a fishing spot, but it can get out of control very fast. Fueled by anglers out looking for something to post of their own, the equilibrium is off between releasing sensitive information to followers and practicing responsible fishery management. It is a critical balance. We always try to evaluate this issue in compiling The Bee’s Fishing Report, because we also could destroy a fishery with too much information.
Uncontrolled posting can be like yelling “Fire!” in a theater. I’ve seen anglers coming from hundreds of miles to fish here based on an internet post they saw. Poachers piggyback off that knowledge. It is akin to leaving the front door of your home open – and just like a burglar, the poachers are coming in to steal.
San Luis is a perfect place for a trafficker to operate. There is access to a highly desired game fish that’s big, and if you can catch a bunch of them, a good profit awaits on the black market. The area also is pretty remote and wide, limiting what law enforcement can do. Night work is the traffickers’ specialty, and weapons and drugs are common.
I commend those groups trying to help honest, concerned anglers enjoy fishing while protecting our fragile fisheries. But further vigilance is required to keep the monster from taking over and getting exploited by those anglers interested in just one thing – more fish for themselves – at everyone else’s expense. Can the genie be put back in the bottle, reversing the unintended consequences of what at its core is a good idea? Be vigilant.
Never give up!