New head of DEEP's EnCon Marine Division 'a huge field guy'
Old Lyme — As Capt. Keith Williams steered the 27-foot SAFE boat on the lower Connecticut River last Thursday morning, he checked for vessels at the state boat launch under the Interstate 95 highway bridge, scanned a passing sailboat for its registration tag and kept a lookout for fishermen angling for striped bass.
“Right now it’s the fall run of stripers, and guys are also catching false albacore just opposite of Millstone,” said Williams, referring to the Millstone Power Station in Waterford. “Most people are compliant, but we do still get a fair amount of fishing violations on size and guys over their daily bag limit.”
As the newly appointed head of the Marine Division of the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection’s EnCon Police, Williams, 44, is in charge of keeping up with a wide array of regulations that change with the seasons across a large area of the state.
Covering Connecticut’s entire shoreline, the state waters of Long Island Sound and the busy Connecticut River from the mouth to Essex, EnCon’s 12-person Marine Division is responsible for everything from enforcement of recreational and commercial fishing and shellfishing regulations to patrolling for drunken boaters and undertaking search-and-rescue operations to responding to fights and drug use at Hammonassett Beach in Madison, Rocky Neck in East Lyme and Sherwood Island in Westport and enforcing rules for waterfowl and deer hunting in shoreline areas.
The division is organized in three sections — one from Branford west to Greenwich, another from Stonington to Niantic, and the central region from Guilford to Old Lyme, including the lower Connecticut River. Williams’ office is located at the DEEP’s Marine Headquarters on the river in Old Lyme, but he’s determined to spend as much time as possible out on patrols rather than sitting behind his desk.
“I’m a huge field guy,” said Williams. “I like to be involved in what the guys are doing.”
Before being promoted to captain on Sept. 19, Miller was an EnCon sergeant in charge of Candlewood Lake, and before that worked as a natural resource officer for the Cape Cod town of Barnstable, Mass. There he built on knowledge of commercial and recreational shellfishing that he had begun acquiring in a previous job with a commercial oyster grower.
As he settles into his new position, Williams is also looking forward to getting acquainted with the shoreline towns and local leaders, as well as launching a new program promoting safe boating.
“Boating safety is going to be huge for me,” said Williams, an avid kayaker, waterfowl hunter and fisherman. “I would love to do an initiative in the spring, emphasizing life jacket safety and going over the laws to let people know they’re supposed to be wearing their life jackets at certain times of the year.”
Recent boating accidents involving kayakers and canoeists paddling without life jackets in the spring, he said, have happened when the victims, eager to get back on the water, failed to appreciate the risk they were taking.
“You don’t realize what cold water and shock immersion can do to you,” he said.
Along with making sure recreational fishermen and boaters are following the laws for fishing seasons, no-wake zones and licensing, the Marine Division also conducts periodic checks of wholesale and retail seafood dealers to make sure the fish being sold meet state regulations,, and do periodic checks of the state’s commercial fishermen, based mainly in Stonington and New London.
“I’ll check when they’re offloading, doing surprise checks at the dock,” he said. “We’ll go to the docks in Stonington frequently just to keep them honest, and let them know we’re out there.”
At grocery store fish counters and fish markets, he and other EnCon officers periodically inspect for undersized fish, and egg-bearing female lobsters being offered for sale, which can result in fines and the loss of a license to sell seafood.
When he finds a violation, whether it’s a fisherman without a license or a seafood dealer selling out-of-season local fluke, Williams said he uses discretion in enforcing fines and other penalties. Most people he encounters, are grateful there are EnCon officers checking for compliance. He is likely to give a warning rather than a fine and a ticket to someone who made an honest mistake or is contrite — unless they’ve done it before.
“You want to enforce the laws, but there are guys who violate and know what they’re doing,” he said. “We do run into repeat offenders who just don’t care.”
While 12 officers covering such a large area can’t catch every violator, Williams said, letting the public know about arrests and fines when they do happen is an effective way to deter others from shirking the rules. One case earlier this summer, he said, is a good example. Four fishermen on the Housatonic River were caught with a boatload of undersized striped bass, probably intended for commercial sale even though the species can’t be sold commercially in Connecticut. Between the four of them and all the small fish, the fishermen were fined a total of $6,000.
“That one case this spring with short stripers on the Housy sent a good message,” he said.
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