Commercial and recreational fishermen are being warned against fishing for Atlantic striped bass in federal ocean waterways.

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The Coast Guard has stepped up its winter enforcement efforts to stop the offshore poaching of stripers along the New Jersey and Delaware coasts through the month of December.

"Federal regulations say that you may not catch, target or posses (striped bass) beyond three miles offshore," according to Coast Guard Lt. Kevin Higgins of the Delaware Bay Sector in Philadelphia. "Beyond the three nautical mile line, federal laws apply ... within three nautical miles, that's where state laws apply and the state's have their own laws for striped bass where you are allowed to have them."

Higgins said Coast Guard cutters from its stations along the New Jersey coastline will be patrolling federal ocean waterways 24 hours a day and will be looking for any illegal catches during random safety inspections.

"So if we were to find a violation on board a fishing vessel, we issue a violation, which is then routed to the National Marine Fisheries Service, who then administers penalties," Higgins said.

According to a Coast Guard press release, "While striped bass are typically found closer to shore, changing sea temperatures can cause them to migrate father than three miles offshore."

Rules to regulate the catch of the popular game fish were put in place in 1984 through Congress according to Higgins, when Atlantic striped bass were nearly fished to extinction.

Coast Guard Capt. Kathy Moore of the Delaware Bay Sector, said "it's important to remember Atlantic striped bass have not fully recovered from years of overfishing."

The public is encouraged to report poaching activity to the Coast Guard at www.uscg.mil/d5/sectdelawarebay/default.asp or 215-271-4974. The Coast Guard press release states that "calls should include a description of the activity, those involved, the location and the time of the offense."