By Tamara Dietrich
Virginia anglers love their rockfish.
So much so that massive overfishing here and along the East Coast in the '70s and '80s brought the population to the brink of collapse and forced fishing bans in state and federal waters.
Soon the stock began to recover, and Virginia lifted its ban after a few years. But the U.S. Coast Guard is reminding the public it's still illegal to catch or even possess rockfish in federal waters that begin three nautical miles off the coast and stretch out to 200 miles, an area called the Exclusive Economic Zone.
"They're federally protected," explained Lt. Scott Williams, spokesman for U.S. Coast Guard Sector Hampton Roads. "Boaters, whether they're commercial fishermen or recreational fishermen, could be subject to fines if they were to catch Atlantic striped bass in that Exclusive Economic Zone."
Rockfish are also known as Atlantic striped bass, or stripers
The Coast Guard says it's stepping up enforcement efforts, and established a hotline at 757-398-6399 for the public to anonymously report suspected striped bass poachers.
Callers are asked to describe the activity they witnessed, those involved and the location and time of the suspected offense. Violators are subject to civil fines.
While Virginia allows licensed recreational and commercial fishing for striped bass in its waters, its marine patrol officers are deputized to enforce poaching laws in federal waters.
John Bull at the Virginia Marine Resources Commission said they don't have striped bass poaching figures because summonses don't distinguish one fish species from another.
But an Interstate Watershed Task Force investigation last year found that Virginia and Maryland fishermen took more than a million pounds of striped bass illegally from the Chesapeake Bay between 2003 and 2009.
That investigation led to the convictions of 19 individuals and three corporations, and resulted in 140 months of cumulative prison time, 58 years of cumulative supervised release and more than $1.6 million in fines and restitution.
'Made in Virginia'
The Atlantic striped bass is an iconic species in the Chesapeake Bay, distinguished by the dark stripes running horizontally along its metallic sides. It's a popular sport fish for anglers and an important food source for larger fish and fish-eating birds. More....