The power of social media has once again made itself evident, and evidence. A south Texas man, 30-year-old Luis Castro, was convicted of poaching after his brother posted a photo on his Facebook page that was eventually used as evidence against him. The photo showed nine illegal red drum—eight of them on the bed of Castro’s truck and the ninth being held by Castro’s brother, who would later post the photo on FB. There’s no word yet on whether or not the brother will be charged with being a dimwit, but let’s just say at a minimum, he’s guilty of not being the sharpest tool in the shed.
As soon as it was posted, the photo started getting lots of attention and several folks reported it via the TPWD’s Operation Game Thief hotline. The photo was removed from FB the day after it was posted, but the damage was done. Game Wardens continued to receive word of the photo even as they closed in on Castro.
After he was located, presumably through evidence gathered on FB, a warrant was issued and Castro arrested. He was convicted November 19th and fined $2,600 plus an additional $2,646 for civil restitution. Ouch…that’s some expensive red fish.
There are a couple of similarities between this story and one you may remember from LSC last year. An Austin area bass angler named Dustin Heathman posted a report on an online fishing forum–complete with photos–of a fishing trip he called “the best day of his life.” In actuality, it ended up being the worst day of is life when he posted several photos of 18 dead largemouth bass, neatly lined up on the deck of his fishing boat.
The resulting calls to Operation Game Thief were predictable to just about everyone, but apparently not so much to Heathman, who actually became indignant at the blow-back he received online after posting the photos.But he didn’t count on someone immediately pointing out the obvious: reporting a poacher could net you a $1,000 reward if there’s a conviction.
Like Mr. Castro, Heathman was quickly apprehended, charged and convicted of poaching and fined several thousand dollars. More importantly, we all got a glimpse at the power of social media, which apparently isn’t going away anytime soon. I predict we’re going start seeing more and more of this and I like it. It helps that these guys usually shoot themselves in the foot, sometimes literally, and that there are just so many of them out there. Let’s just say it’s a target rich environment, and they’re all itching for their next Facebook post.
By the way, as mentioned above, TPWD offers rewards of up to $1,000 for information leading to the arrest and conviction for a wildlife crime. If you see anything, notify Operation Game Thief at 800-792-GAME (4263) or call your local Game Warden.
Lone Star Chronicles: Life, Liberty & the Pursuit of Fish
PS: To read Heathman’s story, click here LSC: The Pummeling.
PSS: Here is the entire TPWD News Release:
AUSTIN – A South Texas man has pled guilty to nine charges of possession of oversized red drum, one charge of no saltwater fishing license, and one charge of exceeding the possession limit for red drum. The investigation leading to the filing of charges against 30-year-old Luis Castro began with a Facebook post showing a man holding a large red drum with eight other oversize drum on display in the bed of a pickup truck. (The bag limit for redfish is three per day, and they must be between 20 and 28 inches. Only one redfish longer than that can be kept, and only with a properly completed redfish tag attached to it.) On Nov. 1, game wardens in Cameron County were contacted about the Facebook picture, which had originally been placed on line by Castro’s brother. Accompanying the image was the comment, “just for fun.” Game wardens ended up receiving multiple complaints regarding the Facebook post. TPWD dispatchers and game wardens were able to review records which eventually resulted in the positive identification of Castro and his place of employment. On Nov. 6, game wardens interviewed Castro and obtained a signed written statement. Five days later, Willacy County Justice of the Peace George Solice issued an arrest warrant for Castro and game wardens arrested him the same day. Following arraignment, he was released with a court date of Nov. 19. “Anglers on several social media sites were posting negative comments, and a day after the picture was originally posted, it was removed,” said Game Warden Maj. Alan Teague. “However, the picture had been saved by many anglers and reposted.” Teague said the picture made it to fishing groups as far away as Florida. “With tips from anglers and hard work by our game wardens and dispatchers, we were able to track the individual to a city in South Texas,” Teague said. During sentencing, Justice of the Peace Solice noted how important recreational fishing is to the people in Willacy County which includes Port Mansfield. Before sentencing Castro, the judge pointed out that there are people in the county whose livelihood depends upon the quality and future of recreational fishing. “It was an obscene number of fish that you caught,” the judge said to the defendant. “We are all living paycheck-to-paycheck but none of us are going hungry. It was completely unnecessary to take that many fish.” Castro was fined $2,600 and an additional $2,645.91 will be assessed as part of the civil restitution.