A Day on the Water with NC Marine Patrol

The Marine Patrol vessel slowly neared the shore at the south end of Wrightsville Beach where several anglers were fishing in Banks Channel. Officer Jason Parker jumped off the boat.

“How are y’all doing today?” Parker asked. “Catching anything?”

Then he began to go from person to person, talking to them and checking their catch and their fishing licenses.

“What’s the size limit on trout?” one angler asked. He looked a little surprised when Parker told him 14 inches because he had released one about that size earlier in the day.

“I thought the size limit was 19 inches,” the man said.

So, Parker showed him how to download the Fish Rules App on his smart phone. The Fish Rules App provides up-to-date coastal fishing size and bag limits.

These types of interactions with fishermen are what Parker and other Marine Patrol officers do every day on the water in coastal North Carolina. Yes, they enforce fishing regulations – they check commercial and recreational fishermen, patrol the waterways and beaches, inspect seafood houses, vehicles transporting seafood, and restaurants all over the state – but they also serve as a vital source for fisheries information.

“A lot of what Marine Patrol does is about education,” said Officer Bill Register, who was manning the boat while Parker was on shore. Most of the fishermen want to comply with the law, he said.

That was not the case, earlier in the day when Register noticed two fishermen floating a 100-quart cooler toward their boat and decided he should check the catch.

There were five men in the boat with cast nets, and they said they had caught mullet.

“They did have quite a few mullet,” Register said. “They also had 13 red drum.”

The possession limit for red drum is one fish per person per day. The size limit is a slot – a minimum of 18 inches and a maximum of 27 inches.

Two of the fishermen – the two that claimed ownership of the fish – got tickets. One was charged with possessing over the daily limit of fish and possessing an undersized fish; the other was charged with possessing over the daily limit of fish and possessing an oversized fish.

But for much of the day on the water, the officers stopped boats as they were coming in through Masonboro Inlet. They checked their catch, their fishing licenses, and the vessels’ safety equipment: life jackets for all on board, a fire extinguisher, a float cushion.

It was a windy day, and the fishing was slow, but the officers felt that it was important to patrol the waters that day.

“The visibility helps with voluntary enforcement,” Register said, explaining that one of the comments Marine Patrol officers sometimes hears from anglers who violate fishing regulations is that they didn’t think they would ever get caught.

On another day, in the height of the summer, the waters around Wrightsville Beach and Carolina Beach, where Register and Parker patrol would be much busier. There is less commercial fishing activity there than in other parts of the state, but there is a large charter boat fleet, Register said.

They see new faces every week of people who are on vacation and want to try to catch a fish. They may not be familiar with fisheries regulations, and that makes the educational aspect of Marine Patrol officers’ jobs even more important.

Learn more about the N.C. Marine Patrol on the Marine Patrol webpage