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.”