AD­VEN­TURES OF A FISH AND WILDLIFE OF­FI­CER

Boat­ing is safer, Florida’s nat­u­ral re­sources are pro­tected

RSWLiving - - News - BY WIL­LIAM R. C OX

Boat­ing is safer, Florida’s nat­u­ral re­sources are pro­tected

In 1966, Es­tero Bay was des­ig­nated Florida’s first aquatic pre­serve. Land was placed in con­ser­va­tion to buf­fer the bay from en­croach­ing devel­op­ment. Es­tero Bay pro­vides great fish­ing, recre­ational and boat­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties, and of course con­ser­va­tion ar­eas need man­age­ment and pro­tec­tion to main­tain their eco­log­i­cal func­tions. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Con­ser­va­tion Com­mis­sion greatly helps pro­tect these types of ar­eas in the state. To fully un­der­stand how the com­mis­sion does its job, I took a boat ride in Es­tero Bay last Au­gust with FWC Of­fi­cer Stu­art Spoede.

Ini­tially I had no idea how di­verse and de­mand­ing the job

is for these ded­i­cated of­fi­cers. In South­west Florida, the en­force­ment divi­sion is di­vided into a North Wa­ter Squad, South Wa­ter Squad, and an In­land Squad. Spoede is part of the South Wa­ter Squad. His pri­mary pa­trol area is Lee County and ad­ja­cent state and fed­eral wa­ters, but he could be called upon to work any­where in Florida.

One of Spoede’s pri­mary du­ties is en­forc­ing boat­ing safety vi­o­la­tions. This in­cludes ob­serv­ing that boaters op­er­ate ves­sels in a safe man­ner, have cur­rent ves­sel reg­is­tra­tion, obey lower speed lim­its and min­i­mum wake zones, and have proper safety equip­ment such as life jack­ets and fire ex­tin­guish­ers. An­other im­por­tant duty is re­source pro­tec­tion. Spoede ver­i­fies that an­glers have fish­ing li­censes and obey state reg­u­la­tions for fish sea­sonal size lim­its, daily bag lim­its, pos­ses­sion lim­its and other le­gal re­quire­ments. Many fish species are legally pro­tected, in­clud­ing spot­ted seatrout (Cynoscion neb­u­lo­sus), red­fish (Sci­aenops ocel­la­tus), com­mon snook (Cen­tropo­mus un­dec­i­malis) and man­grove snapper (Lut­genus sriseus). More game and fish vi­o­la­tions take place at night than in the day­time. Thus the FWC op­er­ates 24 hours a day, in­clud­ing un­der­cover en­force­ment for il­le­gal ac­tiv­i­ties such as gill net­ting for Florida pom­pano (Trachino­tus car­oli­nus). Il­le­gal net­ters can make thou­sands of dol­lars a night.

Spoede’s du­ties not only in­clude in­shore fish­eries pro­tec­tion, but also off­shore pa­trolling—day and night. Some of the off­shore fish­eries tar­geted for pro­tec­tion in­clude the

greater am­ber­jack (Se­ri­ola dumer­ili), red snapper (Lut­janus campechanus), man­grove snapper, mut­ton snapper (L. analis), red grouper (Epinephelus mo­rio) and black grouper (Myc­terop­erca bonaci). Ad­di­tion­ally, Spoede pro­vides as­sis­tance for mul­ti­ple types of re­sponse calls. This can in­clude boat­ing and per­sonal wa­ter­craft ac­ci­dents, dis­abled boats and per­sonal wa­ter­craft, par­tic­i­pat­ing in the nine-day hunt at Ce­cil Webb Wildlife Man­age­ment Area, help­ing with tran­quil­iz­ing and re­lo­cat­ing Florida black bears (Ur­sus amer­i­canus flori­danus) and aid­ing in other wildlife is­sues. For ex­am­ple, he has pro­vided as­sis­tance for the short-finned pi­lot whale (Glo­bi­cephala macrorhyn­cus), West In­dian man­a­tee (Florida man­a­tee) (Trichechus man­a­tus latirostris), Florida pan­ther (Puma con­color coryi), go­pher tor­toise (Go­pherus polyphe­mus), os­prey (Pan­dion hali­ae­tus), brown pel­i­can (Pele­canus oc­ci­den­talis), bald

ea­gle (Hali­aee­tus leu­co­cephalus), log­ger­head sea tur­tle (Careta careta) and sev­eral species of shore­birds. Spoede also re­sponds to sea tur­tle and shore­bird pro­tec­tion en­clo­sure vi­o­la­tions. Sea tur­tle eggs are oc­ca­sion­ally dug up and stolen. Sea tur­tle and shore­bird nests and eggs are legally pro­tected. Some­times, overzeal­ous pho­tog­ra­phers and beach vis­i­tors en­ter and dis­turb shore­bird nest­ing en­clo­sures. Some peo­ple al­low their dogs in­side the en­clo­sures, de­stroy­ing nests and killing nestlings. The en­clo­sures are lo­cated on the beaches of Sani­bel and Cap­tiva, Fort My­ers Beach and other beaches and off­shore is­lands. Snowy plovers (Charadrius alexan­dri­nus) and least terns

(Sterna an­til­larum) have pro­tec­tive en­clo­sures on Sani­bel and Cap­tiva. Least terns, black skim­mers

(Ryn­chops niger) and Wil­son’s plovers (C. wilso­nia) are pro­tected on Fort My­ers Beach.

In ad­di­tion, the of­fi­cer aides in res­cu­ing stranded fish­er­men, per­sonal wa­ter­craft en­thu­si­asts, pad­dle board­ers and swim­mers. At times, pad­dle board­ers and swim­mers

ven­ture too far or can­not make it back to their start­ing point be­cause of high winds or strong currents. Spoede also makes time for in­ter­views with the me­dia.

As a mem­ber of the FWC Spe­cial Op­er­a­tions Group, Spoede aides in en­force­ment against boat and boat mo­tor theft, smug­gling, drug traf­fic, and other fish and game vi­o­la­tions. All of these du­ties are dan­ger­ous jobs and the of­fi­cers carry var­i­ous weapons and wear bul­let­proof vests.

I came away from my boat ride with Of­fi­cer Spoede with a greater ap­pre­ci­a­tion for the mul­ti­ple and pro­fes­sional jobs that he and his col­leagues per­form every day. Florida’s nat­u­ral re­sources and out­door ex­pe­ri­ences are be­ing pro­tected and en­hanced be­cause of the FWC and its ded­i­cated law en­force­ment of­fi­cers.

Spoede’s du­ties not only in­clude in­shore fish­eries pro­tec­tion, but also off­shore pa­trolling— day and night.

The writer on a ride-along with FWC Of­fi­cer Stu­art Spoede dis­cov­ered a greater ap­pre­ci­a­tion for the jobs Spoede and his col­leagues per­form.

Es­tero Bay was des­ig­nated Florida’s first aquatic pre­serve in 1966.

Florida wildlife of­fi­cers reg­u­late boater safety, il­le­gal ac­tiv­i­ties, bag lim­its, ves­sel reg­is­tra­tion, speed/wake en­force­ment and over­see our nat­u­ral re­sources.

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