Anglers asked to help police Keys waters

A call for anglers and boaters to become the eyes and ears of marine enforcement is going out across the state.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) is turning to new text-messaging technology and other forms of wireless communication to broaden their reach.

“When you see someone threatening (sport fishing) resources by damaging habitat, polluting the water, using illegal gear, taking more than the bag limit,” the FWC said, they want to know about it.

Col. Jim Brown, director of FWC’s division of law enforcement, said the public has always played a big role in supporting good conservation.

And, with today’s technology, anglers or boaters who want to report something can send a text message directly to the FWC.

Text Tip@MyFWC.com (but be aware that standard usage fees apply).

“The text-messaging option makes it more convenient for the public,” Brown said. “We also hope it will make Wildlife Alert even more effective in catching poachers and other violators.”

The Wildlife Alert Reward Program has helped the FWC catch thousands of violators when people call 888-404-FWCC (3922), or when they simply dial *FWC or #FWC (depending on their cell phone service provider).

Violations can also be anonymously reported online at: MyFWC.com/WildlifeAlert.

Brown said the Wildlife Alert Reward Program has been around for more than 30 years and has been “wildly successful.”

When information results in an arrest, callers may become eligible for a reward of up to $1,000.

Many conservation-minded people don’t even claim the reward, he said, because “helping get the violators off the water or saving a life by reporting unsafe boaters, including boating under the influence, is reward enough.”

Cell phones, and now texting, help get information to a conservation officer while the possible crime is still ongoing, which gives law enforcement a crucial head start in catching criminals on the water or on land.

When submitting via text message, Brown said it is important to include as much information as possible, including the specific violation observed and the location. Once a report is received, FWC dispatchers can respond via text message to the reporting party to gather additional details.

FWC’s law enforcement division also recommends reports include physical descriptions of violators and vehicles, license tag numbers. Such details are important to ensure an officer can respond effectively.

Callers and online reports may remain anonymous; they do not have to provide their names or email addresses, and they will not be required to testify in court, Brown said.

A confidential code number is provided, so anyone who reports a crime can be eligible for a reward, either by text, email or calling 888-404-FWCC. Trained dispatchers handle Wildlife Alert contacts 24-hours a day, seven days a week.

The real beauty of the program is that violators – through court fines – are the ones who pay the reward money. When a violator is found guilty, the judge can require a portion of the fine to be paid into the Wildlife Alert Reward Fund. So, in effect, violators are paying people to turn them in, Brown said.

Other useful FWC hotline numbers to keep handy:

— Burmese Pythons, or other exotic reptiles: Call 888-483-4681.

— Fish Kill Hotline: Call 800-636-0511.

— Manatees: Report sick, dead, injured or tagged manatees by calling Wildlife Alert: 888-404-3922.

— Marine Turtles: Report dead or injured marine turtles by calling Wildlife Alert: 888-404-3922.

— Nuisance Alligators: Call 866-FWC-GATOR (866-392-4286).

— Oil, Fuel or Hazardous Material Spills in Florida Waters: Call 800-320-0519.

— Red Tide Status Line: (Toll-free inside Florida only) Call 866-300-9399. Outside Florida – 727-552-2448.

— Waterway Markers – Missing or Damaged: Call 866-405-2869.

For additional listings, and online contact forms, visit MyFWC.com/Contact.

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