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ADCNR Officials, Program Honored by Peers

Kyle Rabren joins his fellow Marine Resources Division Enforcement Officers to acknowledge the Gulf Council's Enforcement Officer of the Year Award presented to Rabren. ADCNR photos

By DAVID RAINER, Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources

October has been a special month for the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR) in terms of recognition from its peers.

Both the Southeastern Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (SEAFWA) and the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council held significant events a few blocks apart last week in Mobile.

The Gulf Council met at the Renaissance Battle House Hotel to discuss a variety of issues, including state management of red snapper. During that meeting, the Gulf Council presented Alabama Marine Resources Conservation Officer Kyle “Bull” Rabren with the 2017 Law Enforcement Officer of the Year award.

The Gulf Council award “acknowledges service above and beyond duty requirements and recognizes distinguished service, professionalism, and dedication to enforcing federal fishing regulations in the Gulf of Mexico.”

A three-year veteran of Marine Resources, Rabren is a patrol officer in Baldwin County. In 2017, Rabren conducted 810 hours of patrol on federal fisheries enforcement. He participated in 817 vessel boardings, intercepted nearly 3,000 commercial and recreational anglers and assisted in 107 state and federal citations or cases. Rabren was involved in citing multiple commercial fishing violations, including over the limit of large coastal sharks. In one incident, Rabren seized 88 sharks totaling 2,733 pounds. Rabren charged the same individual with subsequent violations, which resulted in $2,700 in fines and the forfeiture of boat, nets and equipment valued at about $100,000. Rabren, 33, also identified an unpermitted charter vessel operating in federal waters as well as numerous vessels in violation of season or possession limits of red snapper.

“With the little bit of coastline we have in the state, I really wasn’t expecting to bring this award home to Alabama,” Rabren said. “You go out and put the hours in in the heat and freezing cold. You really want people to do the right thing, but you know some people are not going to abide by the rules. I really just want to protect the resource.

“My son (JT) is 3 years old. I really want him to have something that’s worth fishing or hunting.”

Marine Resources Director Scott Bannon said Rabren put in extra effort to rearrange his schedule to specifically monitor certain illegal fishing activities.

“I’m extremely proud of Bull, as we affectionately call him,” Bannon said. “He worked very hard on several federal cases. Some of the activity was taking place at all hours of the night, so he adjusted his patrol efforts to determine if the law was being broken. He made some great cases, and he gets along great with the rest of our officers. They work together and work hard.”

Rabren charged one individual with seven federal charges and four state charges. The charges included possession of prohibited species, over the limit twice, obstruction of justice, two counts of (shark) finning, fishing with a gill net and possession of 20 game fish (red drum).

“He was targeting an illegal activity,” Bannon said. “It just happened to be the same person conducting the illegal activity more than once.”

Bannon said Alabama’s Marine Resources has the least number of enforcement officers on the Gulf, which makes maximizing the patrol time a priority.

“Because of our numbers, our (18) officers have to work extra hard,” he said. “We can’t throw a lot of people at a problem. They have to come up with creative solutions to address illegal activity.”

Conservation Commissioner Chris Blankenship, who was recently presented the Lyles-Simpson Award by the Gulf States Marine Fisheries Commission for lifetime achievements in marine fisheries, said he was elated to find out that Rabren would be the first Alabama officer to receive the award.

“I’m so proud to see one of our young officers recognized by the Gulf Council for their hard work,” said Blankenship, who started his ADCNR career as a Marine Resources Enforcement Officer in 1994. “We have so many good officers in the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. When one of them is recognized, it shines a great light on the people we have and the dedication they show doing their job every day. I’m really happy for Bull.”

ADCNR Commissioner Chris Blankenship and wife, Allyson, celebrate the Lyles-Simpson Award.

As for the Lyles-Simpson Award, Blankenship said, “I was very honored to receive that award. When you look at the men and women who have received that award in the past, they are pillars of the fisheries management world. To be included in that list is quite an honor.”

Down the street at the Renaissance Riverview Hotel, SEAFWA’s annual conference resulted in another honor – the 2018 SEAFWA Diversity and Inclusion Award – for the ADCNR’s Collegiate Mentoring Program, which assists minority students who want to work with fish and wildlife agencies. The program provides those students with hands-on experience in a variety of outdoor activities beneficial to the pursuit of a career in those fields.

“Students majoring in various natural sciences and conservation fields are being introduced to hunting, fishing, camping, canoeing, firearm safety and habitat management and participating in discussions on current issues facing conservation with practicing professionals,” said Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Director Chuck Sykes, who is also the current SEAFWA President. “We recognize the challenges that many minority students face in trying to find mentors and opportunities to engage in such experiences, and we want to make it easier for those interested in the conservation profession to do so.”

Since its inception at Tuskegee University in 2016, more than 80 students have participated in the program. Participants in the ADCNR program are encouraged to engage with the SEAFWA Minorities in Natural Resources Committee (MINRC) as well.

SEAFWA, which represents 15 states, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, noted that ADCNR fostered legislation to reduce out-of-state license fees for college students as well as establishing special opportunity areas (SOAs) for hunting and the Adult Mentored Hunting Program for adults with little or no hunting experience.

“ADCNR, along with its nongovernmental organization partners, has been instrumental in providing educational equipment, training and opportunities to people who otherwise would not have much exposure to the outdoors,” MINRC Chair David Buggs said. “We commend their efforts and look forward to the growth of the program.”

ADCNR has plans to expand the Collegiate Mentoring Program to Auburn University, Troy University and Alabama A&M University.

SEAWFA also honored Vance Wood as the Alabama Enforcement Officer of the Year during the awards ceremony.

Meanwhile, back down the street at the Gulf Council meeting, the Council did not finalize Amendment 50, which would allow for state management of red snapper, for 2020 and beyond. The exempted fishing permit (EFP) will remain in effect for the 2019 season.

Alabama’s proposal to adjust each state’s allotment of the red snapper quota was rejected by Florida and the National Marine Fisheries Service.

Bannon said a follow-up proposal, which would distribute the quota among the five Gulf states, was presented as an alternative and will be voted on at the January 28-31, 2019, Gulf Council meeting at Perdido Beach Resort in Orange Beach.

“This puts us on a very tight timeline to complete all the requirements to have a state-managed 2020 season,” Bannon said. “But if we get everything done in January, we should make it. If we don’t approve something, potentially, 2020 becomes a federally managed season again, and we don’t feel that is going to benefit our anglers.”

After receiving a great deal of public input concerning the cobia fishery, the Gulf Council also approved an increase in the size limit of the fish, also known as ling, to 36 inches fork length, measured from the tip of the snout to the fork of the tail.

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ADCNR was presented the SEAFWA Diversity award by Texas Parks and Wildlife's David Buggs, left. Accepting the award, from left are, WFF's William Freeman, LaDonna James (widow of Alabama Officer Steve James) and WFF's Chuck Sykes.

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