What is it, exactly, that New York State DEC enforcement officers do? The answer, as I found out on a recent half-day ride-along with Officer Mark Simmons, is: More than you probably think.

"Many people see us strictly as game wardens,'' said Simmons, pulling up to Shinnecock Inlet, where a recent call to the 800-TIPP-DEC hotline noted short blackfish being harvested. "But our responsibilities cover almost any environmental infraction you can imagine.''

Indeed, on his dashboard, Simmons keeps a list with more than 30 contacts he can call for information on different environmental questions. There's just so much to know that even law enforcement officials sometimes need experts to clarify specifics.

"I like to strike up conversations when checking for short fish and license compliance,'' said the 10-year DEC veteran as we hopped from rock to rock and peered into jetty crevices, where illegal fish are sometimes stashed. "I find that when I talk to people respectfully things go smoothly -- and they might even express their concerns.''

Stopping at each angler, an extremely diverse assemblage, Simmons politely requested to see a NYS free Recreational Marine Fishing Registry receipt. Checking coolers and buckets, he found one smallish-looking blackfish. It stretched his measuring tape just past the 16-inch minimum size, bringing a chuckle of relief from the angler and officer.

"This is a good day,'' Simmons said. "Of 15 anglers, 14 are properly licensed and one had a registry expired three days ago. I gave him a warning to update it immediately. Although part of this job entails writing tickets, I'd rather see everyone be in compliance.''

Heading to our next stop, an illegal bait pile being used by an archery hunter to attract whitetail deer, Simmons spotted a heavy truck belching blue puffs of diesel smoke. He pulled over the driver, inspected the vehicle, and issued citations for the smoke, plus oil leaks.

"That diesel smoke is nasty and has to be addressed,'' he said, getting back behind the wheel. "Plus, that truck's leaving a puddle every place it stops.''

Back on the road, the DEC radio was abuzz with reports and information exchanges. There was word of a commercial dragger close to an inlet that turned out to be a lawful clam dredge, updates on an inspection to check for radioactive material, a commercial laundry with dirty water overflowing into the parking lot. The chatter never ceased.

"There are only 20 officers to get it all done on Long Island,'' Simmons said. "We're in the field as much as possible but paperwork, court time, sorting evidence, tracking down industrial polluters, water quality monitoring, shellfish checks and more all eat up time, so we have to prioritize very carefully. The public can help us with that by reporting suspected violations to our hotline. We respond to every credible call at some point, especially those providing 'when' and 'where' info to help us pattern offenders.''

As we checked the bait pile -- on posted property, no less -- it was already noon.

"With bait piles, guys even hide trail cameras to monitor if we are monitoring them,'' Simmons said with a wry smile. "We'll get this person, eventually. I'll come back at dawn or dusk and catch him on stand. That will be a good day, too.''

Email: outdoortom@


ONE-DAY SALE26¢ for 5 6 months