My name’s Friday. I’m a fish fraud cop.
Game wardens inspecting the takes of the “Nice Tails” team at the annual Ladies Kingfish tournament last month knew something was up when they saw a trout with a mottled belly and a flounder whose appearance since the team’s last inspection was fishy at best.
The unlikely “catches” to them were another example of a sort of open secret: that cheaters were among the competitors for the thousands of dollars in prizes awarded during one of South Padre Island’s biggest events.
This time, the wardens were armed with a new law that allowed them to press the state’s first-ever felony charges of fraud in a saltwater fishing tournament. Seven people, including their fishing guide, now face up 10 years in prison and up to a $10,000 fine if convicted.
While the state’s Parks and Wildlife code already had a statute regarding freshwater competitions, it was not until last year that the Legislature added saltwater tournaments, which have become huge tourist draws for cities along the Texas coast.
In some tournaments, the total value of prizes tops $100,000, and local and corporate sponsors are eager to make their brands part of the mix. Competitors also can win boats with trailers and pickups.
“There’s a lot of money in fishing tournaments that is wagered, and it’s an incentive for people to cheat,” said Tony Reisinger, a marine biologist with Texas Sea Grant who has lent his scientist’s eye to fishing tournaments.
Violation of the law, a first-degree misdemeanor, becomes a third-degree felony when the tournament’s purse is more than $10,000.
I’ve blogged about the fish fraud law before. I don’t really have anything to add, I just like to stay on top of these things. Also, this was an excellent excuse to embed an Eyebeam comic, “Eyebeam” being my second-favorite surrealist strip to come out of the 80s; like the one ahead of it, both cartoonists got their start at the Daily Texan. So there you have it. Grits has more.