Tip411 Provides Another Tool to Report Violations
By DAVID RAINER
With the evolving way people communicate, the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources hopes to capitalize on the new technology to expand its ability to crack down on those who violate game and fish laws in the state.
After the success of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries’ Operation GameWatch, a program designed to stop violators of fish and game laws in Alabama through the involvement of the public via a toll-free phone number, the Tip411 program will utilize text messaging for responsible outdoorsmen and women to report the law violators anonymously. Text “gamewatch” to 847411 to report the violation.
The Tip411 program, which is supported by grants from the Alabama Wildlife Federation and Coastal Conservation Association of Alabama, will also be used to enhance the Marine Resources Division’s 24-hour hotline (251-476-1256) for reporting violations.
Allan Andress, Chief of the Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division’s Enforcement Section, said Tip411 is a natural extension of the GameWatch program.
“This gives people the opportunity to text in tips on their cell phone,” Andress said. “They can do so anonymously, if they choose to. The information goes through the server of the provider and is stripped of any personal identification. Of course, people can tell who they are if they choose to by including it in the text, but they don’t have to. That’s their choice. It will be anonymous unless the person decides to include their personal information.
“They can interact with the dispatcher if they wish or they can cut it off. It’s up to the person doing the texting.”
Andress said the GameWatch program has been a very important tool to catch those who flaunt the game and fish laws.
“We rely very heavily on information from the public for violations,” he said. “We only have so many eyes and ears. We have somewhere around 110 field people on a regular basis. That’s not many people to cover 67 counties, so it’s crucial that we get information from the public. We have people out there hunting and fishing. They are capable of doing surveillance all the time. They see and hear a lot when they’re in the woods or on the water.
“This is a chance to take part in the process and it helps us out tremendously. In turn, it also helps them out, because these kinds of things also concern them. It’s affecting their hunting and fishing and their resource. It’s a way for them to help protect what they care about.”
Andress said during deer season, which runs through Jan. 31, the most common violations are baiting and night hunting.
“The thing that concerns us right now is we have seen an uptick in night hunting reports in west and northwest Alabama,” he said. “We don’t know what’s caused it. The reports from the field show that there have been more incidents of night hunting than we’ve had in the past. After being down to historically low levels last year, that number could be considerably higher this year.”
Andress expects the availability of GameWatch and Tip411 to be especially important as hunting effort intensifies around the holidays and through the rutting activity that usually occurs in January.
“Quite often it’s around Christmas and the New Year when people get fed up and start calling,” he said. “Plus, the intensity of the hunting increases as the season progresses and we have a long season.”
Andress said the compliance with the three-buck limit seems to be good with only a few incidents when hunters have failed to record the harvest.
“We haven’t had any substantial problems,” he said. “Most people were not exceeding three bucks a season anyway. I think people have gotten into the routine of it. We still run into a few people who haven’t recorded their buck harvest, but, for the most part, it has been inadvertent. You have to think about writing it down.”
Also, for anyone who harvests a deer and gives it to a friend or transfers the deer in any way, documentation is needed to show the transfer from the licensed hunter. Go to www.outdooralabama.com/hunting/harvest/ and click on Antlered Buck and Turkey Harvest Record to download a form with a harvest record and a donation form. Andress said if a person wishes to donate a deer and a form is not available, the hunter can write the pertinent information – the hunter’s license number, date animal was harvested, a description of the animal and to whom the deer was donated – on a card or piece of paper that should be kept with the animal.
To report a saltwater fishing violation, anyone with a cell phone can now text “coastwatch” to the 847411 number. The public should include as much detail as possible – the name and description of the suspects, vehicle or boat description, license plate number, boat registration number, as well as time and place of the potential violation.
“This was a chance for us to try a system that gives us another way for the public to report violations,” said Chris Blankenship, Acting Director of the Marine Resources Division. “Some people are just reluctant to call, or some people feel more comfortable sending a text message. Plus, you know how it is on the water, sometimes you don’t get enough of a signal to make a phone call but you can still text. This gives people another method to provide information to enforcement.”
Blankenship said the 24-hour phone number has been very valuable on providing enforcement with timely information on potential violations.
“We receive quite a few calls,” he said. “Before we had the number, if somebody saw a violation at night or on weekends, it would be the next day before we received the information. By then the violation is over. With the 24-hour number, they talk to live person when they call. With Tip411, the text will go to the dispatcher in Montgomery and they will contact the officers on duty. We already have the Coastwatch Trained Observer Network and the Tip411 program is another way the Marine Resources Division can continue to use technology to protect our natural resources. We certainly appreciate the support of the Coastal Conservation Association and Alabama Wildlife Federation in this effort.”
Blankenship said the most common violations are netting in closed areas, possession of over the limit or undersized fish.
“Right now, roe mullet season has just finished, so we’re in transition,” he said. “There’s not a lot of shrimping going on. We do keep a check on the lower Delta coming back in to the Causeway. When the trout and redfish gather up in deeper spots, it’s tempting to go over the limit.
“Just remember the information provided through Tip411 is totally anonymous so there is no fear of retribution.”