Conservation Law Enforcement Corner – November 2017

Cast netters caught taking gamefish at Lake Oconee.

GON Staff | November 1, 2017

Ricky Boles, a DNR Law Enforcement Ranger First Class, spent Monday morning, Oct. 16, waiting for an accused violator to show up at the Putnam County courthouse. The man was late for his court appearance, and when he did show, a relative had to interpret for the man because he spoke no English. Unfortunately, communication was still difficult because the relative spoke very little English.

The charge the man was facing? Using a cast net to catch and keep game fish—bass, crappie and bream.

If that boat-ramp pattern for early morning bass hasn’t been as productive lately, illegal cast-netters may be part of the reason. There have been dozens of arrests of people using cast nets and keeping game fish at Lake Oconee in the past year, and officers believe it’s likely occurring at other Georgia lakes and rivers, as well.   

The common denominator in the cases? Almost all of those arrested are immigrants from Southeast Asia who live in the Atlanta area, and they are using cast nets at boat ramps, usually after midnight.

Similar arrests have been made in Alabama, where the poachers are primarily hitting tailrace areas and taking large numbers of stripers, hybrids and bass.

Georgia and Alabama authorities both said there are suspicions that at least some of the game fish—bass, crappie, stripers and bream—are being sold commercially, possibly to restaurants in Atlanta.

Ricky Boles, of the DNR Law Enforcement Division, with just some of the cast nets that have been confiscated at Lake Oconee from violators who were using the nets to catch and keep game fish. Most of the people arrested are immigrants from four South Asia countries—Burma, Thailand, Laos and Nepal.

In one Lake Oconee case last summer, Sgt. Matt Garthright recovered 259 illegally taken fish.

Some of the illegal poachers are also using gill nets, and they are setting the gill nets by using rafts.

According to Georgia Sport Fishing Regulations, “Cast nets may be used to take threadfin shad, gizzard shad and blueback herring for bait, except cast nets may not be used in State Park Lakes.”

The use of seine nets, or gill nets, is illegal no matter what type of fish someone catches.

“Taking 200 fish at a time makes a huge impact,” RFC Boles said.

He said the majority of the violators have been caught around the Redlands, Sugar Creek, Highway 278 and other ramps near Interstate 20. Asked whether they might not know the law—which isn’t an excuse—he said some have been caught more than once, and others have tried to run, so they knew they were breaking the law.

At the Putnam County courthouse on Oct. 16, the man caught cast-netting game fish at Lake Oconee pleaded guilty through his interpreter. He paid a fine of $867.

To report violations, call the Ranger Hotline at (800) 241-4113 or *DNR for AT&T Customers.

These game fish were illegally caught in cast nets at Lake Oconee.

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