LDWF Enforcement Agents Do Much More Than The Name Game Warden Suggests
story by Adam Einck, LDWF Public Information
It’s a catch-all phrase that has been thrust upon conservation law enforcement officers since the profession debuted. Say game warden and you get the immediate impression of someone patrolling the woods and waterways searching for outlaws who flout wildlife laws and regulations.
Still a term that most of the public applies to the profession in this day and age, it’s no longer entirely accurate.
Though enforcing the state’s wildlife and fish laws is a top mission at the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, the game warden title has become too narrow in focus to describe the many different aspects that goes into being an LDWF Enforcement Division agent.
“We began calling ourselves enforcement agents for as long as I can remember to better reflect all of the different tasks and missions we are responsible for within the state,” said Col. Sammy Martin, head of the LDWF Enforcement Division. “This profession is always changing and we are constantly adapting to better serve the public and protect the state’s natural resources.”
In fiscal year, 2017-18 LDWF agents conducted 333,099 patrol hours with 258,006 on land and 76,093 on water. LDWF agents made 826,583 contacts with the public, the majority of whom were in compliance with state and federal wildlife and fisheries regulations. LDWF agents issued 12,560 criminal citations and 7,120 warnings during this period.
The LDWF enforcement division is organized in a paramilitary structure to assure the efficient use of resources, consistent statewide enforcement policy and an effective, coordinated response to urgent needs.
LDWF agents have three core missions: ecosystem enforcement; safe boating education and patrol; and search and rescue and emergency services.
Ecosystem enforcement is still the primary mission for LDWF agents.
Agents perform patrols that enforce regulations for recreational and commercial fishing, including both freshwater and saltwater.
“Louisiana offers a lot of fishing opportunities and our agents are there to make sure the regulations are being followed,” said Martin. “This state is unique because of the commercial fishing industry for shrimp, crabs, finfish and oysters and the recreational saltwater fishing opportunities that exist along the coast and in the Gulf.”
Agents make a number of commercial fishing cases, including removing oysters from areas that are unapproved or without permission, shrimping during a closed season and taking crabs from traps without permission to name a few.
One such case occurred on June 8, 2018 in St. Bernard Parish when agents arrested three men for unlawfully taking oysters off a private lease and failure to have written permission. Agents seized 17 sacks of oysters and returned them to the water and also seized two dredges and the vessel. Each man also faces up to $1,900 in fines and 240 days in jail for the offenses.
Another case occurred on May 4, 2017 in Plaquemines Parish when agents cited two men for shrimping during a closed shrimp season. Agents seized 1,291 pounds of shrimp. The men face up to $950 in fines and 120 days in jail.
Agents also cited a man on Aug. 21, 2017 for crab trap theft in St. Tammany Parish. Agents seized 10 pounds of blue crab and returned them to the water. The man faces up to $950 in fines and 120 days in jail.
“The commercial fishing industry is big in this state as it employs a lot of people and supports a lot of the coastal communities,” said Capt. Stephen McManus, in charge of one of the three coastal regions for the LDWF Enforcement Division. “It is our responsibility to make sure the rules are being followed so that the resource is being protected and that no one is getting an unfair advantage.”
Recreational freshwater and saltwater cases also keep agents busy. Most of these cases involve over the limit, undersized or out of season citations for various species.
On May 6, 2018 agents caught three men in Jefferson Parish with 35 red drum of which 28 were under the minimum 16-inch size limit. In Louisiana, each licensed fisherman is allowed five red drum per day, which put these men 20 red drum over the limit. Each man faces up to $1,550 in fines and fees and 180 days in jail.
Agents also found a man in possession of 32 bass in Terrebonne Parish on March 26, 2017. The daily possession limit is 10 bass putting this man 22 over the limit. He faces up to $800 in fines and fees and 60 days in jail.
Louisiana also offers many opportunities to hunt and is home to some of the best migratory game bird hunting in the nation. Hunters also have over three months to take deer and they can take up to six deer with three being antlered and three being antlerless for the season for most areas of the state.
“There are no shortage of opportunities for hunters in Louisiana especially in the fall with deer and duck hunting,” said Capt. Curt Belton, who is in charge of a region with a lot of hunting activity that is in the middle of the state and spans from Texas to Mississippi. “But you can also take wild hogs year round on private property and there is also a spring turkey and squirrel season to get you by until the fall hunting season rolls around. Needless to say hunting patrols in Louisiana keep our agents busy.”
On Dec. 21, 2017 agents arrested a man in Vernon Parish for taking deer during illegal hours with artificial light and failing to comply with deer tagging requirements. The man took an 8-point buck at 4 a.m. The man faces up to $3,180 in fines and fees and 180 days in jail.
During the 2016-17 hunting season agents caught four men in the Venice area with 90 ducks putting them over the limit of migratory game birds. The men were sentenced to pay $2,752 in fines.
Because Louisiana does not allow turkeys to be hunted over bait, agents setup surveillance before the opening weekend to find areas with bait. Last year during the opening weekend agents caught eight people in six different parishes hunting turkey over baited areas. Each person faces up to $500 in fines and 90 days in jail.
LDWF agents also investigate the shooting of protected species such as the Louisiana black bear, American bald eagle and the re-introduced whooping crane.
Agents caught a father and son for illegally shooting a black bear in Iberia Parish on June 23, 2017. The father was sentenced to pay a $2,500 fine and the son has to serve 100 hours of community service and also had his hunting privileges revoked for one year.
Louisiana has 15,000 miles of tidal coastline, 5,000 miles of navigable waterways, three of the busiest ports in the country, a thriving shipping industry, a large commercial fishing fleet and more than 327,000 registered boats. Louisiana also has a year round boating season and hazardous waterway geography in the form of the Gulf of Mexico and small bayous and swamps. Together, these waterways pose special challenges for boating safety enforcement.
LDWF-LED agents made 236,759 public contacts during the course of 60,425 patrol hours dedicated to boating enforcement, education and accident investigation in fiscal year 2017-18. Of those hours, 44,912 patrol hours were performed in vessels on the water.
“With a year round boating season and plenty of water to cover our agents are very well seasoned when it comes to safe boating patrols in the state,” said Major Rachel Zechenelly, the state’s boating law administrator. “The agents know the higher trafficked areas for fishing and recreational boating and make their presence known with regular safe boating checks.”
Agents patrolling the waterways are always on the lookout for inebriated operators of vessels as alcohol is the number one cause of fatal boating incidents in the state and nationwide. In fiscal year 2017-18 agents issued 68 citations for operating a vessel while intoxicated.
From May 6 to 8 agents arrested six people in Livingston Parish for operating a vessel while intoxicated. A DWI on the water in Louisiana carries the same penalties as a DWI on the road and brings a $300 to $1,000 fine and up to six months in jail for the first offense. A DWI on the water also includes loss of driving and boating privileges.
Agents are also responsible for administering and teaching the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators (NASBLA) safe boating course. The course is mandatory for anyone born on or after Jan. 1, 1984 in order to operate a motorboat over 10 horsepower. To date LDWF has certified more than 110,000 boating safety students since the program’s inception in 2003.
“Eventually we want to get to a point where every person boating in Louisiana will have taken the course,” said Lt. Clay Marques, the safe boating education program coordinator. “Since the inception of the boating safety course we have seen a decrease in the number of boating fatalities in the state.”
In the five years before the safe boating course, Louisiana averaged 39 boating fatalities. In the last five years, Louisiana has averaged 19.6 boating fatalities.
The LDWF Enforcement Division is responsible for providing and coordinating search and rescue response and maritime security activities for the state.
Agents are trained for search and rescue and serve as the lead responders in search and rescue coordination under the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness.
“Unfortunately we have been put into a lot of search and rescue situations in the past 15 years,” said Martin. “We have come a long way since the days of Hurricane Katrina and now have a very reliable system for how we operate during search and rescue missions.”
Since 2005, LDWF agents have responded to hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005, hurricanes Gustav and Ike in 2008, Hurricane Isaac in 2012, and Hurricane Harvey in 2017. Agents have also responded to major flooding events in the state, including the flood of northern Louisiana in March of 2016 and the flood in south Louisiana in August of 2016.
During these search and rescue events, agents have put themselves in harm’s way leaving behind their own homes and families to rescue thousands of citizens. LDWF also deployed agents to Texas to help with Hurricane Harvey search and rescue operations and to Florida to assist with Hurricane Irma operations in 2017.
LDWF created the Maritime Special Response Team (MSRT) that works cooperatively with the Louisiana State Police SWAT team to address maritime security threats within the state of Louisiana. The team provides a maritime tactical response capability at the state level in order to effectively provide public safety, officer safety, Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and High-yield Explosives (CBRNE) prevention and response and tactical support for LDWF’s federal, state and local partners.
“Providing maritime security on our state’s waterways is essential to protection of critical infrastructure located in maritime environments throughout Louisiana,” said Martin.
In 2013, the MSRT provided security in the Mississippi River outside the Mercedes Benz Superdome in New Orleans for the NFL’s Super Bowl XLVII in 2013.
“The title game warden doesn’t really fit that much anymore with our profession,” Martin said. “We wear a lot of hats and are expected to perform a variety of services for the state, which we do proudly.”