If you are like most Florida anglers and boaters, you enjoy your time on the water; it’s an opportunity to get close to nature and break the routine of work, school or retirement. The peaceful challenge of trying to find, attract and catch your piscatorial prey is made possible, in part, by the scientific management and conservation laws that sustain sport fish populations. The goal is for everyone to be able to share in the pleasure and to provide a sustainable harvest.
So when you see someone threatening those resources by damaging habitat, polluting the water, harvesting fish illegally (using illegal gear, taking more than their bag limit or keeping undersized fish), you probably wish you could do something. Well you can. The Wildlife Alert Reward Program has helped the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) catch thousands of violators through phone calls people make to 888-404-FWCC (3922) or when they simply dial *FWC or #FWC (depending on service provider). Violations can also be anonymously reported online (MyFWC.com/WildlifeAlert).
Now, conscientous anglers and boaters can also text: Tip@MyFWC.com (standard usage fees may apply). “The text messaging option makes it more convenient for the public,” said Col. Jim Brown, director of the FWC’s Division of Law Enforcement. “We also hope it will make Wildlife Alert even more effective in catching poachers and other violators.”
The highly successful Wildlife Alert Reward Program has been around for more than 30 years. When people’s information results in an arrest, they may become eligible for a reward of up to $1,000. Many conservation-minded people don’t even claim the award because having helped get the violators off the water or saved a life by reporting unsafe boaters, including boating under the influence, is award enough.
Being able to do so quickly and efficiently is crucial. Cell phones and now texting help get information to a conservation officer while the potential crime is still ongoing. When submitting information via text message, it is important to include as much information as possible, such as the specific violation and the location. Once a report is initiated, FWC dispatch has the ability to respond via text message to the reporting party to gather additional details.
The Wildlife Alert Program is administered by a 13-member committee appointed by the FWC’s executive director. The committee meets at least twice a year, oversees the program and determines the reward amounts. There are two members for each of the FWC’s five geographic regions, and one member each representing Audubon of Florida, Florida Wildlife Federation and Unified Sportsmen of Florida. Each member serves a two-year term and may be reappointed by the executive director.
Here is how Wildlife Alert works. When someone knows of, or suspects a violation, they should report it immediately. Information such as the physical descriptions of violators and vehicles, license tag numbers, locations, etc., are important to ensure an officer can respond appropriately. Callers and online reporters may remain anonymous; they do not have to provide their names or email addresses, and they will not be required to testify in court. A confidential code number is required to be eligible for a reward, they are attained by texting, emailing or calling 1-888-404-FWCC. Trained dispatchers handle Wildlife Alert contacts 24-hours a day, seven days a week.
Rewards range from $25 for no fishing or hunting license, to $1,000 for commercial trafficking of wildlife or killing an endangered or threatened species. Someone who reports a boater operating a vessel while under the influence could get $250.
The real beauty of the program is that violators – through court fines – are the ones who pay the reward money. When a violator is found guilty, the judge can require a portion of the fine be paid into the Wildlife Alert Reward Fund. That money is then used to pay rewards. So in effect, violators are paying people to turn them in.
The Wildlife Alert Reward Program is administered by the Wildlife Alert Reward Association, a non-profit, 501 (C)(3) created in 1979. Association members promote the program and raise private, tax-deductible, charitable donations to supplement the funds received through fines. To donate to the program send a check to: Wildlife Alert Reward Program, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, 620 S. Meridian St., Tallahassee, FL 32399-1600.
There are many other ways that concerned citizens can directly assist the FWC.
- Angler Tag Return Hotline: Call 800-367-4461.
- Burmese Pythons, or other exotic reptiles: Call 888-483-4681.
- Fish Kill Hotline: Call 800-636-0511.
- Horseshoe Crab Nesting Activity: Call 866-252-9326.
- Manatees: Report sick, dead, injured or tagged manatees by calling Wildlife Alert: Call 888-404-3922.
- Marine Turtles: Report dead or injured marine turtles by calling Wildlife Alert: Call 888-404-3922.
- Nuisance Alligators: Call 866-392-4286.
- Oil, Fuel or Hazardous Material Spills in Florida Waters: Call 800-320-0519.
- Red Tide Status Line: (Toll-free inside Florida only): Call – 866-300-9399. Outside Florida: Call 727-552-2448.
- Waterway Markers – Missing or Damaged: Call 866-405- 2869.
For additional listings, and on-line contact forms for many of these reporting activities, visit MyFWC.com and select “Contact” from the top menu.
Protecting fish, wildlife and ourselves is everyone’s responsibility. Reporting those who misuse our wildlife resources or endanger lives by operating vessels while intoxicated is one way we can all help. Through Wildlife Alert and these other programs, ordinary people become the eyes and ears of the FWC, keep costs down, help conserve our resources and keep outdoor enthusiasts safe.