Feds: Clean up or say goodbye to land-based shrimping

April 23, 2011 at 12:41 am

*published Apr. 23. 2011
BY VANESSA C. DEGGINS

Federal officials said Tuesday that land-based cast netting for shrimp in Sabine Wildlife Refuge will end if issues over waste and illegal activities are not resolved.

The most-persistent issue is the wanton waste of fishery resources, said Don Voros, manager of the Cameron Prairie, Sabine, Lacassine and Shell Keys wildlife refuges.

Voros displayed photos of dead fish that he said are regularly left to rot, along with litter and discarded nets, on piers at Hog Island Gully Recreation Area. Hog Island Gully has been closed indefinitely to shrimping.

He said many shrimpers empty their nets on the piers instead of back into the water, which U.S. Fish and Wildlife agents prefer.

“Federal regulations require that by-catch is returned to the water immediately, but even dead fish should be thrown back as well,” Voros said.

He said agents have had to call the area fire department to hose down the piers because of flies and maggots that infest the area.

“If a conservation organization were to come here and see the piers like that, they could actually sue us for wanton waste of fishery resources because they would say we allowed that to happen,” Voros said.

Another major issue is an increase in the illegal sale of shrimp.

“Through the years, there has been a black market for shrimp coming from Sabine,” Voros said. He said the use of cell phones has contributed to an increase in the activity.

Multiple state and federal details and undercover operations, coupled with federal judges who impose fines of up to $5,000 and probation, have not been able to stop the activity, officials said.

Probation usually includes banning the offender from the refuge.

Officials outlined their Cast Netting Action Plan phases and the outcome of multiple efforts to increase compliance.

“We put out a variety of signs explaining regulations for limits, littering, etc. Someone eventually pulled one sign up and threw it in the canal,” said Terry Delaine, manager of Sabine Wildlife Refuge.

He said portable bathrooms and garbage cans had to be removed because they were always overflowing or vandalized.

“Uniformed and plain clothes officers try to patrol the areas regularly now,” Delaine said.

Volunteers, managers and biologists have to empty garbage cans and clean the piers because U.S. Fish and Wildlife cannot afford cleanup staff. Delaine said the refuges have almost a third fewer staff members than they had seven years ago.

The federal statute that regulates recreational activities on national wildlife refuges says the focus should be to foster appreciation and education, Voros said.

“Families can’t even take their kids out, and some said they don’t want to,” Delaine said.

“I can say most of us that work with fish and wildlife decided to do this because of the connections we made to the land crabbing and fishing, but this has gotten out of hand,” said Diane Bordon-Billiot, outreach specialist for the Southwest Louisiana National Wildlife Refuge Complex. “So we need people to convince us why land-based shrimping should be here.”

If land-based shrimping is closed, officials said they will open about 300 acres to boat cast netting, which would be allowed every day from sunrise to sunset.

About a dozen residents, along with volunteers from the organization Friends of SWLA National Wildlife Refuges, attended the meeting.

Many supported increased enforcement, which is not a current option for state and federal agents.

“I would like to see more enforcement, if possible. You should keep hammering them and put them under the jail. But we also need to get the community involved before we start talking about shutting everything down,” said Mike Cohler of Carlyss.

Comments will be accepted until Tuesday, April 12. Residents can mail letters or e-mail to terry_delaine@fws.gov.

Anyone who observes illegal activity can call a 24-hour dispatcher at 1-800-442-2511 who will contact state and federal wildlife agencies.

Friends of SWLA National Wildlife Refuges and Wetlands: Jerry Doucet jerdou317@outdrs.net or 582-6251

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