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, using illegal gear, taking more than the bag limit or keeping undersized fish, you probably wish you could do something. Well, you can. You have several options, but the newest, most real-time option is to silently send a text message to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC). Conscientious anglers and boaters can 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 Wildlife Alert Reward Program has helped the FWC catch thousands of violators when people call 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).

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 reward because helping get the violators off the water or saving a life by reporting unsafe boaters, including boating under the influence, is reward enough.

But being able to do so quickly and efficiently is crucial. Cell phones, and now texting, help get information to a conservation officer while the possible 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 dispatchers can respond via text message to the reporting party to gather additional details.

Besides reporting a suspected violation immediately, don’t forget to include physical descriptions of violators and vehicles, license tag numbers, etc. Such details are important to ensure an officer can respond effectively. 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 provided, so you will be eligible for a reward, either by text, email or calling 888-404-FWCC. Trained dispatchers handle Wildlife Alert contacts 24-hours a day, seven days a week.

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 to be paid into the Wildlife Alert Reward Fund. So, in effect, violators are paying people to turn them in.

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: 888-404-3922.
  • Marine Turtles: Report dead or injured marine turtles by calling Wildlife Alert: 888-404-3922.
  • Nuisance Alligators: Call 866-FWC-GATOR (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 – 727-552-2448.
  • Waterway Markers – Missing or Damaged: Call 866-405-2869.

For additional listings, and online contact forms for many of these reporting activities, visitMyFWC.com/Contact.

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.

– Katie Purcell contributed to this column. She is the FWC’s public information coordinator for its Division of Law Enforcement.