As the 2007 Louisiana shrimp season draws near, the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF) has reported a sharp decline in the number of closed-season shrimp violations in Louisiana inshore waters in Terrebonne and Lafourche Parishes.
LDWF Enforcement Division Supervisor of Region 9, Captain Sammy Martin, whose jurisdiction includes Terrebonne and Lafourche Parishes, attributes the decline in violations to two things: heavier penalties and consistent prosecution.
First, effective in 2005, heavier penalties for illegal shrimp fishing in state waters were set in place. The increased penalties were drafted and enacted into law after several meetings with local legislators, several concerned commercial fishing organizations, Terrebonne and Lafourche Parish District Attorneys, and the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.
The new penalties included forfeiture of fishing licenses for the remainder of the year and a requirement for convicted offenders to harvest shrimp only from vessels equipped with vessel monitoring devices or systems (VMS) installed at the offender's expense. The VMS system allows enforcement agencies to track the vessel via computer to determine where and when the vessel is engaged in commercial fishing.
The second, and perhaps more important reason for reduced infractions is consistent prosecution of offenders by the district attorneys. In years past, illegal shrimping was viewed as a "victimless crime." Now district attorneys understand that the commercial fishing industry in Louisiana is a multi-billion-dollar-per-year trade. Illegal harvest is theft from law-abiding fishermen who patiently wait for the season to begin.
District Attorneys Joseph Waitz Jr. of Terrebonne Parish and Camille "Cam" Morvant II of Lafourche Parish have also been actively promoting compliance with shrimping laws on local television, running public service announcements before the beginning of each shrimp season. These public service announcements warn potential offenders they will be prosecuted if apprehended.
Joseph Waitz Jr. said, "I believe the decline in the closed-season shrimping violations is a direct result of the close cooperation of the fishing industry, law enforcement, the legislature and the general public. We are committed to continuing this effort and working to protect this vital part of our culture."
Cam Morvant added, "Our seafood industry is one of the most important assets of our area. Joe [Waitz] and I have made it a point to get the word out that we will vigorously prosecute any close season shrimping violations. The message we send out in the courtroom reinforces the idea that we take these violations seriously."
In 2004, LDWF enforcement agents issued 37 closed-season shrimp citations in Terrebonne and Lafourche Parishes, in 2005, that number was reduced to five. This past year, (2006), that number was further reduced to three. The reduction indicates public awareness that local prosecutors and the state are no longer willing to tolerate violations of commercial seafood industry regulations.
EDITORS: For more information, contact Lt. Col. Keith LaCaze at 225-765-2988 or firstname.lastname@example.org