Alabama is casting a net over saltwater fishing violations with a new program that allows the public to anonymously report such violations via text message.
Launched by the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR) Marine Resources Division in mid-November, the program enables cell phone users to text “coastwatch” to the number 847411 to report saltwater fishing violations. People who witness saltwater fishing violations are encouraged to provide as much information as possible about the violators, such as the name and description of the suspects, a vehicle or boat description, license plate number, boat registration number, time of observation and the area where the violation occurred, according to the Marine Resources Division.
“The biggest hope we have is that it gets us more information of violations than we have,” said Maj. Chris Blankenship, chief enforcement officer and acting director of the Marine Resources Division. “We’re trying to make it as easy for the public to provide us as much helpful information as possible.”
The program uses the tip411 tool developed by Web-based solutions vendor CitizenObserver. When someone sends a text message to report a violation, tip411 removes identifying information, so the texter can remain anonymous. Once the ADCNR receives the tip, it can take proper action to crack down on the saltwater fishing violators, Blankenship said.
Some coastal areas make it difficult to speak on the phone since getting a cell signal can be tricky, but people are still able to text in poor-signal areas, he said. It will be beneficial to the ADCNR if people send text tips as soon as they get cell phone service while out in the water.
Blankenship said before the text program launched, Alabama had for the last 10 years (and still has) a 24-hour telephone tip line to report violations. However, some people are reluctant to give their name or may be afraid someone might find out that they reported the violation.
According to the Marine Resources Division, some of Alabama’s saltwater fishing violations include illegal netting; violations of fish size and limits; shrimp and oystering in closed waters; and closed-season fishing. Blankenship said one of the major fishing violations for this time of year is red snapper fishing.
“One of the hot topic fish right now is red snapper — they have a very short season,” he said. “And so right now the bag limit is zero for red snapper — the season is closed.”
The tip411 program costs the ADCNR $1,200 annually, which includes the text number setup and continual text message monitoring. Blankenship said the text-a-tip program has been used successfully by the Mobile County, Ala., Sheriff’s Office to receive anonymous information about methamphetamines.
“They have a meth text line, and that has led to some good arrests for people manufacturing methamphetamines in Mobile County,” he said.
Blankenship said although the Marine Resources Division hasn’t received any tips through the program yet, he’s hopeful that it will positively impact Alabama’s coastal region. “I think it will make a difference for our saltwater species.”