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You might not see them all the time, but New Jersey's Conservation Police Officers are out there in the field and along the water, enforcing laws and sometimes saving lives.
By Jim Hutchinson, Jr.  |  November 19, 2018
While generally enforcing laws and regulatory actions, sometimes New Jersey Conservation Police Officers (CPO) are called into lifesaving action. CPO Tracy Stites recently received the Lifesaving Award from the North American Wildlife Enforcement Officers Association for his successful efforts to save the life of a car crash victim in February of 2018.

Acting on a tip, New Jersey Conservation officers caught three anglers poaching undersized striped bass during the early morning hours of August 28 along the railroad tracks spanning the Manasquan River in Brielle.

Conservation Patrol Officer (CPO) James Woerner and Conservation Police Detective Christopher Moscatiello were alerted that fishermen were harvesting striped bass illegally and set up surveillance in the area. Two of the fishermen packed up and made their way back to their vehicle where the officers were waiting to inspect their catch. Upon inspection, the two fishermen were found to be in possession of 31 undersized striped bass.

CPO Woerner then went out along the railroad tracks and scooped up the third fisherman, whom was found to be in possession of 15 undersized striped bass. In total, 46 undersized striped bass were recovered from the three men.

The fishermen were issued court-mandatory summonses for possession of undersized and over-limit striped bass and appeared in court on September 25.

While the state of New Jersey doesn’t often release names associated with fisheries cases, the Asbury Park Press published the names of those charged with the poaching violations on November 14, 2018 as Domingo Rodriguez and Victor M. Rivas of Bethlehem, PA, and Luis A. Rivera Feliciano of Allentown, PA.

All three pleaded guilty to charges of possession of undersized striped bass and being over the daily limit. Fines ranged $2,012 to $3012 was assessed, plus court costs. According to the Asbury Press, Rivas had a prior conviction in 2015 for striped bass violations, and has since had his hunting and freshwater fishing license privileges suspended in New Jersey for 2 years.

On November 17, 2018 the New Jersey Conservation Officers Association Facebook page released information on yet another recent bust involving CPO Woerner along with CPO Brett Nicklow. While conducting a recent boat patrol off Sandy Hook, the two officers acted in response to numerous complaints regarding vessels traveling from New York and fishing in New Jersey waters for tautog and black sea bass.

The officers inspected several New York-based recreational vessels and found numerous violations. More than a dozen summonses were issued for the possession of sublegal black sea bass and tautog, as well as for over-limit on both species.

Additionally, the New York Department of Environmental Conservation (NYDEC) was notified of these violations since many of the fish recovered from these inspections would have also been illegal to possess in New York.

Anglers should remember that New Jersey CPO’s also work with NOAA Fisheries and the U.S. Coast Guard monitoring fishing activities in federal waters as well.

“Being that striped bass are a sport fish, they’re highly sought after and the three-nautical mile line is the threshold to preserve the species,” said Petty Officer 1st Class Sherman Baldwin, senior fisheries officer at Coast Guard Station Barnegat Light New Jersey. “Large Atlantic striped bass breeding fish tend to stay outside of that three mile line from shore, and by creating this line that prevents taking, targeting or possessing striped bass over the years, we’ve allowed the species to regain ground since regulations were put in place in the 1980’s.”

The three-mile line protecting the striped bass population was put into place by the Atlantic Striped Bass Conservation Act, which made it illegal to fish for striped bass in federal waters was passed by Congress in 1984 under 50 CFR 697.7(b) to counteract the severe population decline of striped bass at that time. It is not only illegal to harvest striped bass outside of the three-mile line, but simply targeting striped bass is also considered a “federal” crime for which enforcement officers are keeping an eye out.

“Our members are boarding vessels to protect fishing stocks and making sure that future generations will be able to enjoy the same fish we can now,” said Lt. Matthew Kahley, deputy enforcement chief at Coast Guard Sector Delaware Bay in Philadelphia. “We board commercial and recreational vessels to ensure that laws are being followed, and at the same time that vessels have the right safety gear aboard.”

To follow along with the New Jersey Conservation Officers Association and what they're up to, visit their Facebook page and LIKE it to have news items appear in your own feed.

More information on the three-mile line and striped bass regulations.