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Shrimp Poachers Beware

Yes, game wardens can see in the dark.

By Chester Moore, Jr.

Night shrimping has been an ongoing problem in Texas. New night vision goggles will allow game wardens to observe areas without alerting poachers to their presence.

Night vision equipment helped United States armed forces crush Saddam Hussein’s Republican Guard in 1991’s Operation Desert Storm. More recently, it gave our Special Forces troops a hand in overwhelming the Taliban in Afghanistan as part of Operation Enduring Freedom. Now it is allowing Texas Parks and Wildlife Department game wardens to subdue poachers along the Gulf Coast.

Last fall, the Coastal Conservation Association (CCA) donated $32,000 in night vision binoculars and other surveillance equipment to aid TPWD wardens in coastal enforcement.

“These binoculars have allowed our wardens to see nocturnal game thieves in action,” says game warden captain Rex Mayes. “They allowed the recent apprehension of several shrimpers suspected of illegal practices and the capture of hundreds of pounds of illegally harvested red snapper.”

Night shrimping in particular has been an ongoing problem in Texas and TPWD officials have formally addressed it on several occasions. TPWD coastal fisheries director Hal Osburn says that over the last few years, TPWD officials had numerous meetings with the shrimping industry to discuss this and other problems in the fishery.

“We consistently hear complaints from shrimpers about poaching, especially at night,” he says. “The first drag of the morning can often be one of the best of the day since the shrimp are still bunched up. Poachers getting started before daybreak make it harder for the legal shrimpers to make a living. A strong law enforcement presence on the water at night is one of the best ways to deter these resource thieves.”

Night vision goggles allow wardens to observe areas at night without using lights, which alert poachers to their presence. In the same way they allow soldiers to intercept the enemy, wardens are able to use the element of surprise to bust poachers.

“Poachers can get very inventive, so it is important for us to have up-to-date technology,” Osburn says. “The Texas Coast is a vast area and enforcing it is challenging, so anything we can get to aid in that cause is appreciated.”

CCA officials are proud to be able to provide this kind of help to TPWD. “Conservation means the wise use of resources, so aiding coastal law enforcement fits right along with our organization,” says CCA Executive Director Pat Murray.

Texas coastal resources are under more pressure than ever and it is important for wardens to be able to do their jobs effectively despite the situation. Murray says that until someone spends some time with a warden it is hard to understand just how difficult his or her job can be.

“Texas game wardens are some of the hardest-working people around and anything we can do to make their jobs a little easier is our pleasure,” he says.

Groups such as CCA, which has donated more than $400,000 to TPWD research and enforcement over the year, are an invaluable resource, according to Osburn.

“First of all, they demonstrate why ongoing resource management is so important, because they are the end users of well-managed stocks,” he says. “They also provide unique financial support for items that state government may take a long time to fund, but are critical items at the time for biologists or game wardens. The fact that they are willing to voluntarily pay for these items gives me great comfort that we really are going in the right direction with Texas fisheries.”

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