The Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM) is announcing that Administrative Law Judge Christine D. Coughlin assessed a $9,000 penalty upon William McLaughlin, III for possessing striped bass in the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) off Block Island. The case originated from a joint enforcement patrol conducted by the DEM’s Division of Law Enforcement and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Office of Law Enforcement at night on June 30, 2020 in the federal waters of the Southwest Ledge. That night, officers observed striped bass being dumped from McLaughlin’s vessel, aptly named Just for the Haters, as he departed the area in an attempt to avoid contact by law enforcement. Officers nevertheless apprehended the vessel and found two large striped bass still onboard.
In assessing the penalty in this case, Judge Coughlin considered McLaughlin’s actions in both discarding striped bass and fleeing law enforcement as aggravating factors. Judge Coughlin also explained: “While unlawful possession of one or two fish may not seem to be of consequence to [McLaughlin] when considered in a purely individual context, when it is considered amidst the backdrop of an already struggling fishery and a seemingly rampant disregard for its conservation by ‘prolific’ unlawful fishing activity, such behavior, even individually, is especially grave.”
As described in Judge Coughlin’s decision, large – often female – striped bass tend to migrate to the EEZ seasonally. Those individuals contribute the most to future generations of fish in the population. The intent of the established rules prohibiting fishing for and retaining striped bass in the EEZ is to maintain a sustainable fishery for generations to come. If you have questions about striped bass fishing rules and regulations in Rhode Island state waters, please contact DEM Division of Marine Fisheries at 401-423-1923. For questions about striped bass prohibitions in federal waters, please contact NOAA Fisheries’ Enforcement hotline at (800) 853-1964. A copy of Judge Coughlin’s decision is available on the NOAA Office of General Counsel, Enforcement Section website.