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Not too long ago, I watched three friends fishing together as they casted for coho salmon along Indiana’s Lake Michigan shoreline. They were in a good spot, and the fish were really biting. Every time one of them caught a fish, it was quickly put into a grimy five-gallon bucket which was set on the rocks between them.
Before long, two of the three anglers had caught their five-coho limits, and so they packed-up their fishing gear and left. It took the third fisherman another 10 or 15 minutes to finish out his limit, and once he did he started packing his gear to leave, too. When he dropped his fifth coho into the bucket, however, he suddenly realized that his friends had taken off and left him with all of the fish.
It probably started as a joke; the other two undoubtedly figured it would be pretty funny to leave him with the bucket so he would have to carry all of the heavy fish by himself. He immediately recognized a problem they had overlooked, though. What if he ran into a conservation officer on his way to the car with 15 coho salmon in his possession? He would be in big trouble, and conservation officers do not look kindly on poachers.
Had he actually been poaching? No, because he personally caught and kept only five salmon. But was he in violation of the law by taking the bucket and having too many fish in his possession? Absolutely. Technically, the game warden could throw the book at him. If he was lucky, however, he could explain what had happened to the officer and catch up to his friends in the parking lot and set things right. Without a doubt, though, his friends had put him in a very bad position.
The example above shows an honest mistake that can be made by anyone. I’m sure that the fisherman’s friends were not trying to get him into trouble. But there are people out there who regularly take fish and game by illegal methods or illegally take more than their limit. They do nothing but hurt the resource and give sportsmen in general a bad name.
All too often I have seen people trying to snag salmon during the fall salmon run, and I have seen other people trying to net fish that were swimming close to shore (especially after the fish refused to take their baits). It is unsportsmanlike and illegal, but some people still try to do it.
Luckily, there is something the rest of us can do to help put a stop to poaching. Indiana has a good program in place called “Turn in a Poacher”, or TIP. Turn in a Poacher, Inc. is a non-profit conservation organization that works hand-in-hand with Indiana DNR Law Enforcement to protect our fish and wildlife resources by increasing public support and involvement in bringing violators to justice.
In general, “poaching” means the illegal taking, killing or processing of fish, game or nongame wildlife. A poacher is a thief who illegally steals wildlife that belongs to each Indiana citizen. Poachers rob licensed, ethical anglers and hunters of the recreational opportunities they bought through license fees. For fishermen, poaching could include fishing without a license, taking more fish than the limit, taking undersized fish and taking fish by illegal methods.
Citizens can help stop poachers by calling the TIP hotline at 1-800-TIP-IDNR (1-800-847-4367) as soon as possible after witnessing a violation. A law enforcement officer will take your call and the report will be investigated. You may also go online and file a complaint on the DNR website at: www.in.gov/dnr/lawenfor/2745.htm. It’s as easy as that, and all reports are confidential.
If you decide to call-in your report on the TIP hotline, rest assured that you may remain anonymous if you wish. It is not necessary to give your name, and no one who provides information is required to testify in court. Also, under the TIP program rewards are offered for information leading to the arrest of fish, wildlife or environmental law violators.
Remember, salmon are not the only wild game that can be poached. Other gamefish like bass, walleye, pike and others are taken illegally every year. Deer, turkeys and pheasants are also the targets of poachers. It may not always be possible to get a conservation officer onsite to catch the poacher in the act right when you see him, but if you report it the offenders will eventually be caught. Our valuable natural resources are worth the effort.
Citizens and concerned sportsmen can also help by becoming an honorary member of the Turn in a Poacher Advisory Board. Go to www.tip.sportsman-mag.com and sign up for an annual membership or make a donation. All memberships include a special TIP hat, certificate and membership card. TIP hats may also be purchased separately. All proceeds go directly to assisting Indiana DNR Law Enforcement with catching poachers. Together, we can win this fight.