By Neil Taylor, Strike Three Kayak Fishing
For the savvy angler, they know that the pursuit of inshore gamefish will be the very best in the quieter, less-traveled areas. Some of the best locations to find this kind of situation is inside designated zones where gas powered motors are restricted or prohibited. One such situation is “Combustion Motor Exclusion” areas. The Translation: Powerboats or gas powered personal watercraft can go into those areas but not using their gas motor. They can drift in, use their a pushpole or trolling motor. The actual intent of these exclusionary zones is to protect the shallow seagrasses inside these well-marked (signed) areas.
Invariably, there will be people who do not know, or more likely “ignore” the signs and regulations. Knowledgeable boat operators may claim that they know the water depths, their propeller depth and utilize their motors in these areas. It is true that some may know their way around and do not harm the seafloor grass. Another question arises- What about all the fish they spook out with the motor noise that others would want to catch? Without question, the Combustion Motor Exclusion zones are perfect havens for great redfish action, as well as other species, but not if the law is being broken and the noise of combustion engines mars an otherwise undisturbed area of water. Others who are going to fish there are expecting “zero combustion noise.”
It is discourteous, illegal and completely unnecessary. Really, how much longer does it take to troll or pole? Let’s face it: Many knowing offenders are too lazy to use their trolling motor or pushpole, and some don’t even have either of those two tools to employ but enter these zones anyway. If I can take a beginner in a kayak to paddle that distance, anyone in a powerboat can obey the law and cover that distance legally. The negative impact on others’ fishing plans makes this a disappointing situation that is encountered way too frequently in these zones.
Ignorance is not an excuse. Signage is posted at ramps explaining the zones, the laws and the fines. The signs are easily seen and clear to understand. Boat operators “on motor” will pass right by the signs often coming right by me. For many, many years I have talked to these people about it and the most common response I have received? Usually prefaced by profanity: “I know but I don’t care.” The second most common response “No one is ever here to catch me”. For the violators that decide to ignore the laws, financial penalties exist not just for violating the law but also for damage to the seagrass. A law enforcement officer must witness the infraction.
“See a violation, report a violation”
Avoid confrontations and leave it to the professionals to handle these situations. Do not put yourself into a situation where you will be abused or endangered by someone in violation of the law and discreetly make a phone call to alert the authorities to the situation. The very best resource for most of the zones in the Tampa Bay area is the Pinellas County Sheriff Marine division. Call the main line for the Sheriff office (727-582-6200) and Press 1 to “request a deputy”. Give the dispatcher your cell phone number and as much information you can give on the vessel in violation (location, direction they are heading, boat color, number of people on board, FL registration number). Giving your cell phone number, if the deputy who responds calls you can give them updated information on the location of the violator.
The impact of your contribution of reporting the illegal activity- The more that people are cited and fined for it, the less it will happen. The less it happens the better your fishing will be but there will also be less habitat destroyed. “Repeat offenders” will not be endearing themselves to the authorities. The damage by propellers to seagrass is permanent. Just as it is protecting your natural resources when you report poachers, reporting Combustion zone violations is doing your part to preserve a resource that belongs to us all. You are not a “rat”, a “snitch” or a “tattletale” -you will be a conscientious citizen.